An Unexpected Policy to Help Mothers and Children Thrive
Author: Laura Harker, Policy Analyst
Georgia ranks poorly when it comes to the well-being of mothers and children. Georgia ranks the fifth-highest in infant mortality rate and sixth-lowest in meeting the need for publicly-funded women’s health services, according to America’s Health Rankings. Many strategies are needed to improve maternal and child health in Georgia, though one of the most promising policy tools to help mothers and their children flourish might surprise you: tax credits. By effectively boosting a family’s income, tax credits can yield far-reaching and long-term benefits, especially for moms and kids. Taxes might not typically be associated with health, but one credit has been called a “highly cost-effective” way to improve health.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is one of the most successful and well-researched tax credits in the U.S. Established in 1975, the EITC is a federal program with a history of broad support that provides a bottom-up tax cut for working families. After filing their tax returns, eligible households receive a credit that averages about $3,000 depending on income and family size. More than 1 million working Georgia families with low-to-moderate incomes claimed the EITC in 2015, bringing about $3 billion into communities across the state. These 1 million families include an estimated 770,000 working mothers and 1.2 million children.
Researchers have linked the EITC to better mental health for moms, as well as lower infant mortality and healthier birthweight for babies. During pregnancy, mothers receiving the EITC are also more likely to access prenatal care and less likely to smoke or drink alcohol. Children in families receiving the credit also saw health benefits that could extend into adulthood. Larger EITC payments were associated with improvements in children’s behavioral health, including measures of anxiety and depression. The credit also reduces childhood poverty, which can help children avoid the early onset of some illnesses as adults.
In addition to improving health outcomes, the EITC is linked to a range of benefits, including better achievement in school, increased workforce participation and higher lifetime earnings. The policy has earned bipartisan support over the decades and has been strengthened by leaders from both parties. Twenty-nine states — including recent addition South Carolina — also build on the benefits of the federal EITC with similar credits to lower families’ state taxes. Georgia isn’t on the list yet, though state lawmakers have discussed proposals to enact a “Georgia Work Credit” in recent years.
If state lawmakers were to pass a Georgia Work Credit, researchers estimate that Georgia could achieve an 8.4 percent decline in births of babies with low birth weight*. That translates to more than 1,000 children born each year with healthier weights and more promising futures. Georgia’s leaders could make that vision a reality when the next state legislative session begins in January 2019.
Public health professionals, tax policy experts and advocates for working families will gather at the Rollins School of Public Health next week to continue this conversation and explore other ways for tax policy to improve health. To learn more about how taxes and fiscal policy affect maternal and child health, register for the free breakfast briefing scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 28.
*Estimates for improvement in birth weight for Georgia were generated by authors of the study Markowitz, et al using data from the National Center for Health Statistics’ Linked Birth/Infant Death Records data for 2007-2014, accessed at http://wonder.cdc.gov/lbd-current.html