As millions joined the last-minute frenzy to file federal income taxes Thursday, religious groups urged Congress to craft tax policies to help low-income working families.
A coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim groups, and major faith-based organizations released a series principles this week to guide the development of tax legislation that will enable families and individuals to provide for their immediate need.
According to the groups, sound tax policies can help create incentives for saving, so that families can build assets to weather future economic shifts and ultimately move out of poverty.
"Because of the way tax benefits are structured….too often low-wage workers do not earn enough to access those benefits," the groups said. "This results in a system that perpetuates inequality by rewarding behavior that generates financial security for those who already have it, while excluding those who are working hard at low-wage jobs and need help the most."
"An equitable, moral tax code should reward the efforts of low-income people to work and save at every level," they added.
Specific objectives suggested by the groups for national tax policy include providing adequate income assistance and related services to working families and individuals, strengthening and expanding programs that support low-income working parents with children, providing incentives to pursue and maintain employment and increase earnings, expanding programs to support workers' efforts to achieve self-sufficiency, and raising adequate revenues to meet societal needs, support economic growth, and create jobs.
The groups also called for tax policies that be made "as simple as practicable" so that taxpayers, tax administrators, and legislators can all understand the rules and confidently apply them or comply with them.
"We support national policies that enlarge opportunities for all people to have an income adequate to maintain health and dignity," said Ruth Flower, legislative director for the Friends Committee on National Legislation. "We believe that our tax system should yield enough revenue to support appropriate government responsibilities, and that it should be progressive, requiring those who have more to contribute more to the common good."
"We can't end hunger in this country through nutrition programs alone," said Rev. David Beckmann, president of Bread for the World. "Tax credits give low-income working families the critical resources they need to bridge the gap between what they earn and what they need."
Along with signing the statement, Beckmann's group is participating in the advocacy effort through a campaign called an Offering of Letters, where Bread for the World members write personal letters and send other personalized communications to their representatives in Congress.
The group has also developed several resources on the topic for congregational use, including bulletin inserts, study resources, and a list of group activities
A complete list of signatories on the statement include Bread for the World, Catholic Charities USA, The Episcopal Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Friends Committee on National Legislation, Islamic Relief USA, Jewish Council for Public Affairs, National Council of Churches of Christ, National Council of Jewish Women, National Ministries of the American Baptist Churches USA, NETWORK: A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) Washington Office, Sojourners, Union for Reform Judaism, and The United Methodist Church General Board of Church and Society.