Senate OKs Bill to Extend Tax Credit to Thousands of Immigrants

Sens. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George's) and Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) in a 2020 photo. Both spoke on the Senate floor Friday in favor of a bill extending a tax credit to tax-paying immigrants. Rosapepe spoke emotionally about his immigrant grandparents. Photo by Danielle E. Gaines.

The Maryland Senate approved a measure to expand a tax credit to a broader group of taxpayers Friday, including thousands of immigrants who’ve been excluded from previous relief efforts.

The proposal would expand the increased Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provided for in the recently passed RELIEF Act to people who file taxes using individual taxpayer identification numbers (ITIN) for several years. Those taxpayers, including undocumented immigrants, are currently excluded from the EITC because it requires a Social Security Number.

There are more than 86,000 ITIN filers in the state, according to Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D), many of whom would meet the EITC’s income criteria. Those ITIN filers paid more than $100 million in state and local taxes last year.

People who pay taxes using an ITIN include undocumented immigrants and “some people who are lawfully present in the U.S., such as certain survivors of domestic violence, Cuban and Haitian entrants, student visa–holders, and certain spouses and children of individuals with employment visas,” according to the National Immigration Law Center.

As it was originally introduced, Senate Bill 218, introduced by Sen. Nancy J. King (D-Montgomery) would have created a refundable credit for the state’s income tax equal to $500 for each child dependent under the age of 6 or under the age of 17 with a disability. In order to qualify for that credit, taxpayers would need to earn a federal adjusted gross income of $6,000 or less.

As amended and passed by the Senate Friday, the bill extends EITC to ITIN filers for the 2020, 2021 and 2022 tax years, as promised by the legislature’s Democratic leadership last week. The child tax credit was also altered to only include children under the age of 17 with disabilities. It was approved along party lines by the Senate on Wednesday.

The 32-15 vote was largely along party lines, although Sen. Adelaide C. Eckhardt (R-Middle Shore) voted for the proposal, and Sen. Katherine A. Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) voted against it.

In voting for the bill, Democrats emphasized that many ITIN filers are essential workers who’ve been left out of federal aid efforts throughout the pandemic since they don’t have Social Security numbers.

“Our essential workers, many of whom are first generation immigrants, are as deserving and hardworking as any of our great grandparents and forefathers were who worked in other times,” Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) said.

Senate Republicans again pushed back on the proposal. Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick) said the proposal would cost the state $60 million annually over the next several years, and said the recently passed RELIEF Act signed by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) last week doesn’t go far enough to help the “vast majority” of Maryland taxpayers.

“We shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking the RELIEF Act was some sort of relief for the beleaguered taxpayers of Maryland,” Hough said. “It was not. The vast majority of Marylanders do not own a small business. The vast majority of Marylanders pay more into taxes than they get back in this state.”

Minority Leader Bryan W. Simonaire (R-Anne Arundel) said undocumented immigrants get “more services than what they put in taxes,” like paved roads and public education.

In an emotional rebuttal to Republicans, Sen. James C. Rosapepe (D-Prince George’s) remembered his grandparents who immigrated to the United States in the early 20th century.

“When people say immigrants don’t deserve help, faces come to our minds,” Rosapepe said. “When talking about these issues of immigrants, the faces that come to my mind are my father and my grandfather and my grandmother. They were not welcomed by some people to the United States before World War I. And there are people today who don’t welcome people who come to this country. To me this is a little bit personal.”

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) slammed the Republican assertion that left-wing advocacy groups were the reason for the EITC expansion. Like other supporters of the proposal, Ferguson emphasized that those who receive the EITC benefits would go toward helping tax-paying Marylanders.

“This bill came to the floor because the last vehicle we had wasn’t sufficient to help my friends, my neighbors, the people I care about and work with on a daily basis: Fellow residents of the state of Maryland, many of whom have suffered harder and deeper than any group in this state,” Ferguson said. “The reason this bill is on the floor is because, fundamentally, the biggest threat to the American dream is the sense of the ‘other.’”

The bill will now go to the House for consideration. Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) both promised to quickly pass relief for ITIN filers after the RELIEF Act’s passage.

[email protected]