By Lauren Pescatore
On Friday, the Massachusetts legislature passed a budget for fiscal year 2018 that includes an unprecedented provision to expand Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) access to domestic violence survivors and abandoned spouses.
According to the Healthy Families EITC Coalition, current tax law prevents survivors of domestic violence from claiming the EITC unless they:
- File joint tax returns with their abuser, which may put them at risk of further abuse, or
- Qualify for Head of Household status, which requires that they live on their own for at least six months of the tax year and pay at least 50 percent of household expenses during that month.
Domestic violence survivors who fled their spouses or were abandoned in the latter half of the tax year are typically required to file their taxes as married filing separately and lose eligibility for the EITC.
Under the new provision, Massachusetts adopted language that will maintain EITC eligibility for these survivors, regardless of filing status. However, the provision also limited eligibility for the state EITC to Massachusetts residents only. Previously, the credit was available to any eligible worker employed in the state.
Research shows that rates of domestic abuse are higher among those living in poverty, compared to those in wealthier households. In addition, women who experience severe aggression are more likely to be unemployed and experience physical, reproductive, psychological and social health problems. Expanding EITC eligibility for domestic abuse survivors provides a safety net and helps them to achieve financial independence from their abusive partners.
Massachusetts has taken an important step in providing tax relief to domestic violence survivors and paves the way for other states to do the same.