As Montgomery County Council members challenge themselves to eat on no more than $5 a day for five days, one councilman said he wants to restore a tax credit for the county’s poor that was cut during the recession.
Councilman Hans Riemer said he is floating a bill among his colleagues that would gradually restore the Working Families Income Supplement back to 100 percent and keep it there.
The county cut the supplement — which matches what a resident receives from the state’s Earned Income Credit — when times got tough, Riemer (D-At large) of Takoma Park said Tuesday.
County code requires the amount of the county’s Working Families Income Supplement paid to each recipient to equal the refund received from the state’s Earned Income Credit or another amount approved in the annual operating budget or by a council resolution.
The credit was cut to 72.5 percent of the state’s level in fiscal 2011, Riemer said. The next year, the credit was cut to 68.9 percent.
At the same time, the number of households receiving the credit increased from less than 20,000 to more than 30,000, Riemer said.
In the current budget, the council restored some of the supplement, raising it to 75.5 percent of what a resident receives through the state’s credit. The increase meant approximately $1.96 million more in aid this year.
“But there is no assurance that the credit will ever return to the 100% match that the county was able to sustain for ten years. This bill will provide that assurance,” Riemer wrote in a letter to his colleagues and the executive branch.
Some council members question if Riemer is putting the cart before the horse, as the supplement is set each year in the budget and County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) will not release his fiscal year 2014 budget recommendation until March 15.
“This in effect has become its own [maintenance of effort],” Councilwoman Valerie Ervin said of Riemer’s bill, referring to the Maryland law that requires counties to maintain at least prior-year funding per student for education. Riemer’s bill would require the county to pay 100 percent of the credit no matter what.
“We are not sure if that is fiscally appropriate and we haven’t seen the budget, so I think it’s a little premature,” Ervin (D-Dist. 5) of Silver Spring said.
Council President Nancy Navarro said the council needs to be wary of setting targets it might not always be able to hit.
“We have to be careful, especially with the difficult downturn in the economy, not to set us up to fulfill obligations, in law, that we are not sure we are able to meet,” she said.
Navarro (D-Dist. 4) of Silver Spring said the council should take up the bill in the context of the budget.
Montgomery historically has been ahead of the curve in fighting poverty, Riemer said.
“But I suppose some people might believe we can cut government and not hurt people. It’s really not true,” he said. “When we cut back government services in the county, there were people who paid the price. This is a good example.”
In fiscal year 2011, about 33,000 people received an average $381.81 each through the supplement, he wrote in his letter. A restoration of the county match to 100 percent would put an extra $124 into the pocket of each recipient, raising the supplement to about $505.
Riemer’s bill would restore the supplement at about the same pace as it was cut.
In fiscal year 2014, his bill would bump the supplement up to 80 percent of whatever a resident receives from the state. In fiscal year 2015, the supplement would increase to 90 percent, and would hit 100 percent in fiscal year 2016.
To follow Riemer’s proposal would cost the county about an additional $800,000 in fiscal 2014, he said.
However, the council easily could restore the supplement during fiscal 2014 budget deliberations without Riemer’s bill.
Riemer said he hopes the council will raise the supplement in the next budget, but also let his bill progress and make fully funding the supplement a matter of future policy.
“My first concern is that the budget should reflect what the bill calls for,” he said. “If we can get that done, it should become even easier to get the bill passed.”
Riemer said he hopes to have enough support to introduce his bill in the coming weeks.