A new tax proposal submitted to Congress could bring new federal subsidies to poor Orthodox Jewish families with four or more children.
The bill, introduced in early June by Democratic New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, would extend the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax subsidy for poor families. The current program provides larger benefits for families that have two or three children; the new proposal would provide graduated benefits for families with up to seven children.
An activist from the Bobover Hasidic community in Brooklyn suggested the bill to Nadler, and though the change could theoretically help large impoverished families anywhere in the United States, it was written with the ultra-Orthodox in mind.
“The bill… [is] in direct response to those concerns I’ve heard from community leaders here in Boro Park,” Nadler said at a June 9 event announcing the proposal in the ultra-Orthodox Boro Park section of Brooklyn. “It means more money in families’ pockets.”
The Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, is a federal tax rebate program available to low-income taxpayers. For certain poor families, it can mean a check from the government worth up to $5,800 once a year. The amount of the benefit depends on a family’s income and on the number of children that family has. Under current law, however, the EITC program only provides additional benefits for up to three children, so that a family with three children would receive the same credit as a family with 12.
In Boro Park, where low-income Hasidic families often have far more than three children, this limit has caused frustration. At a neighborhood meeting with Nadler in early 2013, a Bobov camp director and activist named Yoel Rosenfeld aired the grievance.
“We have a lot of large families in the community, and it’s basically unfair technically, ” Rosenfeld remembered telling Nadler. “I do [my] taxes myself, and I have nine kids. I know exactly where it stops.”
Nadler promised to look into the issue, and came back two months later with his bill. According to a release from Nadler’s office, a family with seven children and an income of $26,000 under the current law receives a little more than $5,000 through the program; under the new bill, the family would receive roughly $8,000.
At the meeting in Boro Park in which he announced the new bill, Nadler joked that it should be called the Yoel Rosenfeld Bill.
“The community is very excited,” Rosenfeld said. “People are very happy that a simple person can propose an idea and the next thing you know, there’s a bill in Washington about it.”
A spokesman for Nadler said that the office doesn’t yet have a clear sense as to how many families would be affected by the legislation. The office estimates that 1.6 million Americans are members of households that have four or more children, but that most of those families would have incomes too high to qualify for EITC. But, as documented in a recent survey of New York Jewry by UJA-Federation of New York, poverty is widespread among the ultra-Orthodox. The survey found that 43% of Hasidim in the New York area are poor.
In his announcement of the bill, Nadler noted that the program could have a major impact on the Orthodox community. “It’s a small slice of the population — maybe fairly large in Boro Park, but it’s a very small slice of the population,” Nadler said.
The UJA-Federation study, published in 2012, found that Hasidic women in the New York area aged 35-44 averaged nearly six children.
The new bill isn’t likely to pass anytime soon. Nadler spokesman James Owens told the Forward that the congressman might try to fold the proposal into a broader tax reform package sometime in the next year or two.
Josh Nathan-Kazis is a staff writer for the Forward. He covers charities and politics, and writes investigations and longform.