BOSTON (SHNS) – Leaders in the House and Senate have made clear that they intend to move forward with a tax rebate program limited to people who earned at least $38,000 a year, but they have also repeatedly pushed back against the idea that their tax relief plans exclude the state’s lowest-income residents.

Progressives have cried foul as the Legislature advances a bill (H 5007) that includes a suite of tax code changes and $250 direct payments to residents who earned between $38,000 and $100,000 last year, arguing that putting a minimum income on the rebate program ignores the needs of residents who earn less than that but are also struggling to cope with skyrocketing inflation and energy costs. Legislative leaders say they already addressed low-income residents with a pandemic premium pay program that saw $500 checks go out earlier this year and have tried to call attention to the ways the bill’s other provisions might help those Bay Staters.

“The tax changes are permanent. They affect all low-income folks. So there’s a significant amount in here for those folks under 38 [thousand dollars a year],” House Speaker Ronald Mariano said earlier this week. “Even though they’re not specifically getting a direct rebate, they will get tax relief that is permanent.”

When the House brought the gigantic economic development package that serves as the vehicle for the tax rebates and reforms agreed to by a select few people atop each branch to the floor Wednesday, Revenue Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Cusack detailed for representatives the various other provisions that leadership feels address the needs of lower-income residents and families.

Raising the child and dependent tax credit to $310 per dependent and removing the cap will provide more than $130 million in relief to more than 700,000 families, he said. Boosting the senior circuit breaker credit to $1,755 will relieve more than $60 million in tax liabilities for more than 100,000 seniors, Cusack said. Raising to $4,000 the rental deduction will provide relief to over 880,000 residents, he said, and changes to the estate tax would lead to relief for about 2,500 filers each year.

And raising the state’s Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) level from 30 percent of the federal credit to 40 percent would help nearly 400,000 families making less than $57,000 a year and would provide relief of over $91 million, Cusack said.

“So through those five tax deductions, combined with our one-time rebate program, we are providing over a billion dollars in direct relief in this package to the citizens of the commonwealth,” he said. “And I urge my colleagues to be proud of that, to go out there and sell it, and let people know that they are getting their money back from us — over a billion dollars.”

Senate President Karen Spilka, who on Wednesday more or less slammed the door on the idea of removing the income floor for the rebates, also called attention to the rental deduction, the child and dependent credit and the senior circuit breaker when pressed to respond to the argument that low-income residents are being left out. She also highlighted the increase in the EITC, which has been recognized by both Democrats and Republicans as one of the most effective tools to combat poverty.

“EITC — which has been a Senate priority for years, we did it a few years back — we’re going to be raising the percentage to 40 percent of the federal. Research has showed, you want to give assistance to low-income individuals and working families, EITC is the best way to do it,” she told reporters. “It’s direct money in their pockets and then they turn around and pump it back into the local economy. So it goes right back into the Main Street shops and the local economy, which stimulates the local economy as well. So EITC was a real priority for us to include into this package because it will give direct relief to low-income families.”

The state’s EITC is available to “certain low-income individuals who have earned income” and meet the requirements for the federal tax credit, according to the Department of Revenue. To qualify for the federal credit, a taxpayer must have worked full- or part-time during the tax year and earned income below a certain threshold. For tax year 2021, those thresholds ranged from $21,430 for filers with no children to $51,464 for filers with three or more children, DOR said.

According to the Executive Office of Administration and Finance’s fiscal 2021 tax expenditure budget, the EITC program was worth an estimated $283.9 million to residents.

The last adjustment to the EITC came in the fiscal year 2019 budget, when lawmakers and Gov. Charlie Baker hiked it from 23 percent to 30 percent of the federal benefit level. Baker has been very supportive of EITC increases in the past and has even supported larger increases than the Legislature was willing to authorize.

Asked late Wednesday if she would be open to removing the rebate income floor when the bill comes to the Senate, Spilka told reporters that while she’ll “never say no on almost anything, for this in particular, we will be moving forward.”