Every year, I know that the income tax deadline is approaching when I see the guy in my neighborhood I call “the Liberty Tax man.”
Dressed up like the Statue of Liberty, the costumed mascot for Liberty Tax preparation company stands at a busy intersection. Somewhere in his late 60’s, he prances and freestyles a bit while holding a sign that advertises to passersby: GET TAX HELP FROM LIBERTY.
He’s a jovial Lady Liberty. But it’s hard to not see the ironies.
The reality is, the weeks leading up to tax day are a time of fear, anxiety and frustration for many people. It’d be reductive to say that’s only because it’s a reminder to pay the piper. There are many more reasons why tax time can be a burden even to the millions of Americans who strongly believe in paying them in exchange for social services that make our communities stronger. People who, in fact, want to help America remain solvent and fulfill its highest ideals.
Lady Liberty is meant to be a beacon of light upheld to provide safety and security to those in need, especially immigrants fleeing oppression. But that’s not what our present tax system does or where our dollars go.
Firstly, billions of corporate dollars go untaxed, while the workers who make their profits possible pay a hefty sum from their paychecks. Fifty-five of the largest corporations in America paid absolutely no federal corporate income taxes in 2020, although they enjoyed significant profits. The New York Times reported in 2020 that then-President Donald Trump—despite immense real estate holdings—paid only $750 in taxes in 2016 and 2017. In 2022, a study has proven that the wealthiest Americans consistently paid little to no federal income taxes because they used legal means to dodge paying their fair share.
Revelations like this insult struggling Americans who realize taxes are a necessary duty of citizenship. And they’re especially insulting to undocumented residents who pay taxes and still don’t get to enjoy the perks of citizenship.
But they also help justify Senator Elizabeth Warren’s crusade to pass a two percent wealth tax on $50 million households, so that middle class taxpayers won’t alone bear the burden. President Biden, too, has just proposed a minimum tax on billionaires to try and even the score.
The inscription on Lady Liberty reads: “Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses” after all, not “give the wealthiest Americans another tax break.” Properly administered, taxes should be collected fairly, shared equitably, and distributed for the common good—especially towards helping the poor and low-income families.
There has been one recent temporary change in the tax system which augurs well—a relief measure that could make Lady Liberty proud by rectifying flaws in a system which has failed tens of millions of low income people.
In the past, provisions under the tax code supposedly intended to lift low income Americans have actually excluded the poorest and most vulnerable. In a literal sense, individuals can be too poor to qualify to receive assistance.
But the Biden administration enacted emergency relief in response to the pandemic which included significant changes to a pair of programs that assist individuals and families with children: The Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Under the expanded relief guidelines families in need received higher sums of assistance money on a schedule more conducive to reducing child poverty. The additional help was flexible and enabled them to pay for whatever they needed: Groceries, rent, transportation, school supplies, and more.
But the full potential of CTC and EITC to lift families out of poverty can’t be realized in just one tax cycle. Congress could take a bold step forward by permanently enshrining the provisions for expanded CTC and EITC into the tax system. And, our government should ensure that immigrant families who pay taxes are not excluded from the benefits.
We could enhance CTC and EITC support and provide other programs to help low-income people using the money that feeds America’s already bloated military and weapons budgets, by dipping into funds used for inhumane family separation and detention, or by collecting the billions major corporations owe Americans.
Here’s the clincher. My prancing Liberty Tax Man who I see annually at tax time isn’t happy with the present system either. Last year, I jocularly engaged him. I wasn’t surprised to learn he too dreams of additional social services and income support. He isn’t a full-time employee of Liberty Tax. He is a retiree, with too little social security income to support his family. He works temporary jobs, like this annual Lady Liberty gig, to help out his kids and grandkids who he said were struggling too.
He grinned good-humoredly, but sighed with cynical irony, “Don’t talk to me about taxes.” He’s one of millions of citizens who feel Uncle Sam takes a lot and then gives too little. But the lasting memory of Lady Liberty chastises us to do better.