When James Gilliam and his wife, Hiroko, moved from Missouri to Peabody to be near their grandchildren in 2013, they soon learned the premium they’d pay for living in Massachusetts — from housing costs to car registration. But lately Gilliam, a retired family portrait photographer and his wife, a former Japanese teacher, find themselves pinched even more by inflation.
And with little earned income and poverty-level Social Security payments, they wouldn’t benefit from a proposed rebate the Legislature has put forward for households that reported at least $38,000 in 2021 income.
“It doesn’t seem to serve the purpose of helping people,” Gilliam, 78, said. “We get absolutely nothing.”
In response to intense pressure to provide relief to families squeezed by inflation, Massachusetts lawmakers last week unveiled a plan to give potentially millions of taxpayers a one-time rebate of $250, or $500 for some dual-income households.
But the floor, which excludes the state’s lowest income residents, has given some lawmakers and experts pause.
State Senator Diana DiZoglio sent a letter to Senate President Karen E. Spilka, saying that she agreed with the rationale for the proposed rebate but expressed her distaste for the income floor, calling the proposal “unsupportable.”
But top lawmakers say that low-income earners were prioritized in the last year, with stimulus payments, enhanced unemployment benefits, and a temporary extension of the federal child tax credit.
“We felt we had addressed a lot of the needs there,” House Speaker Ronald Mariano, a Quincy Democrat, said last week, referring to the state’s low-income earners.
In a statement Monday, Spilka said “every working individual making less than $38,640 who filed taxes in 2021 and did not claim unemployment was eligible to receive a $500 COVID premium payment.”
“Those checks have already gone out,” she said.
But some of those benefits were meant for pandemic-related expenses, some argue, and left out swaths of poor residents like those who don’t earn their income, don’t have Social Security numbers, received unemployment benefits, or were too old or young to be eligible.
Phineas Baxandall, a senior tax analyst at the left-leaning Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center, said for those who didn’t benefit from pandemic-related benefits last year but make less than $38,000, “it’s insult to injury for them,” he said.
“And it’s hardly as if folks under $38,000 are in great economic shape now,” he said.
Some lawmakers have attempted to ease the squeeze on their constituents in other ways, proposing relief to serve as an alternative to a suspension of the state’s gas tax, an action pushed by Republicans in the state but firmly rejected by Massachusetts’ overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature.
Spilka, Mariano, and other legislative leaders also support a package that would increase the child and dependent care tax credit, the earned income tax credit, the senior circuit breaker tax credit, and provide for rental assistance, all proposals legislative leaders say are designed to benefit low-income families.
In an interview, DiZoglio, a Methuen Democrat, who is also running for state auditor, said “there should absolutely not be a minimum income requirement” on the tax rebates, noting that the current state of inflation is a “different emergency” than that of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which some workers received assistance from the state and federal government.
The state is facing what’s projected to be a nearly $3.6 billion surplus for the fiscal year that ended June 30, DiZoglio wrote in her letter, leading her to ask: “What reason can we rightfully give to exclude lower income households from receiving a straightforward tax rebate?”
State Senator Becca Rausch, a Needham Democrat, filed an amendment to give a rebate to anyone under a certain income threshold who owned a gas-powered vehicle or received government benefits, “to make sure we were capturing everybody. "
“We need to capture all the people who are really feeling that pinch the most,” she said.
The new rebate plan emerged as lawmakers remain in negotiations over the $50 billion state budget. The plan was tucked into a wide-ranging economic development bill that emerged in the House Monday, which pledges more than $1 billion in tax breaks and rebates, including increases to the credits that seniors, low-income workers, and parents can claim.
The rebate would cost between $500 million and $510 million and could be financed by the expected multibillion-dollar budget surplus. Representative Mark J. Cusack, the House chairman of the revenue committee, said last week that more than 2 million taxpayers could receive a rebate.
“This has been an ongoing evaluation of what has the best impact on the most amount of people,” Mariano told reporters Monday morning. “That is what we tried to do.”
But for the Gilliams, lawmakers’ rebate plan falls short
“If we had to rent, we couldn’t live here,” Gilliam said
Samantha J. Gross can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.