In the Fight for Families, We Can’t Forget We’re on the Same Team

Robin McKinney, MSW
Co-Founder & CEO, CASH Campaign of Maryland

As funding from the American Rescue Plan Act winds down and states grapple with budget cuts, policies and programs that help low-income households meet basic needs are in the crosshairs. Advocates for working families are inevitably pitted against each other as elected officials struggle to prioritize one program over another in a tight budget year. Meanwhile, tax breaks and other incentives for corporations and wealthy individuals continue to pass through legislatures with ease. This leaves us to question, why do we have to fight so hard to secure the bare minimum for families when corporations and billionaires are still not paying what they owe into our tax system?

When it comes to anti-poverty tools or programs–such as enhanced tax credits, emergency rental assistance, and access to healthcare—legislators, particularly on the state level, often treat these initiatives as if equity and wellness matters are a la carte items. The truth of the matter is that there is no catch all when it comes to anti-poverty preventive measures. Yet, regressive politicians and special interest groups have become experts at sowing division between likeminded groups dedicated to progressive tax policies, too often forcing advocates, stakeholders, and policymakers to treat anti-poverty tools as a zero-sum effort. This further complicates or delays the process of passing meaningful policies that lead to economic stability.

In Maryland, as the state legislature focused efforts on economic security for families, CASH Campaign for Maryland partnered with more than 20 advocacy organizations to push for the Family Prosperity Act, which included tax credit expansions. We and our partners viewed this as a critical opportunity to provide financial relief for more than 400,000 Maryland families. With our resources and advocacy combined, we were proud to help push through legislation allowing eligible single filers in Maryland to receive a 100% match to their federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The Family Prosperity Act also extends tax breaks to immigrant workers who pay taxes but are not currently eligible for the federal EITC. Additionally, our efforts paved the way for Maryland to establish a permanent state Child Tax Credit (CTC), providing a $500 refundable tax credit for households with children under 6 years of age and with an income of less than $15,000. This provision fills a financial gap for families who were excluded from the federal CTC.

This legislative victory is now paving the way for hundreds-of-thousands of everyday Maryland families to offset rising costs – but the road to passage was fraught with misinformation and division that threatened to derail our efforts and destroy trust among our fellow advocates. Even more, it risked our very credibility as conflicting messaging and misinformation could easily have found their way to politicians’ desks, which in turn could be amplified and used to dissuade constituents from supporting the same tax policies from which they most stand to benefit. Ultimately, this shifts the focus away from supporting working families to simply just securing “wins.”

The passage of the Family Prosperity Act was significant, not only in what it provides Maryland families, but also in showing how a coalition of advocates prioritizing the greater good and keeping their advocacy efforts people-centered can strengthen relationships among advocacy groups and policymakers and advance programs and policies that help our communities thrive. It also opens channels where advocates can truly educate the public and lawmakers, push back on misinformation in a unified way, and effect meaningful change.

With budget season winding down, now is the time for advocacy groups to build on our legislative success by working together to advance equitable solutions that address disparities and dismantle barriers to opportunity. We must remain committed to working in tandem, even long after the bill’s signing.

Strengthening our partnerships, unifying behind a common message and goal, and seizing our place as the trailblazers in this space is critical to building our political power. It is crucial to leveraging our expertise with and influencing our state’s decision-makers—and it is ultimately the only way we can ensure that it is Maryland’s families, and not just the powerful few, that call it a win.