Thursday, May 22, 2008

Thoughts on the Economic Stimulus Tax Rebate

By Ken Regal, Co-Director of Just Harvest

Many of us have just received or will soon be receiving a “tax rebate” check from the federal government as a part of the Economic Stimulus bill passed by Congress and signed by President Bush earlier this year.

My question is why do we so readily accept the idea that this money is a "tax rebate" or a "tax refund"? When the government decides to pass out checks to poor people who fill out vast paperwork, jump through incredible numbers of bureaucratic hoops, and put up with all sorts of indignities and verification procedures, we call it "welfare." Right-wing politicians score political points deriding those who are allegedly getting a free ride on the backs of "hard-working Americans."

But when the same government decides to pass out checks to just about everybody except those at both extreme ends of the income distribution curve, printing the checks just as fast as they can, and requiring no more paperwork than the tax returns we file anyway, then it's "a tax rebate" or (even worse), the "Bush tax rebate." Let's call it what is really is: welfare-for-just-about-everybody. Then when we're standing behind somebody affluent in line at the grocery store who is buying junk food with cash, we can sneer at them and think "Hey, how dare you! That's my tax money you're wasting on soda and potato chips!"

Now, some have argued that the “tax rebate” is different because it reflects a return of what a taxpayer has already earned. But let’s consider what it means to “earn” a check from Uncle Sam:

Under federal welfare rules, essentially everyone who gets cash assistance from TANF must be caring for dependent children and, with exceptions that vary from state to state, most must be working or in a state-approved "work activity" for a specific number of hours per week.

In contrast, think about the rules of the current economic stimulus rebate: A person who sits on his patio drinking gin and tonic all day and who receives $75,000 in income from interest, dividends, or capital gains will get a $600 "rebate." But the guy he pays $50 every week in the summer and fall to mow his lawn makes less than the required $3,000 to qualify and gets no rebate.

My question remains: among Ms. TANF mom, Mr. Lawn Mower, and Mr. Gin-and-Tonic, who's on "welfare" and who is "earning" what they receive?

So, whether you’ve earned your recent “welfare-for-just-about-everybody” check or not, consider donating part or all of it to Just Harvest and help us keep up the fight against hunger, poverty, and economic injustice.

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