It took hard work, a little help and a quarter century for Synovia Ridley to climb the economic ladder into the middle class. Synovia moved to Georgia in 1983 from Birmingham, Ala., to study social work at Clark Atlanta University. A few years after starting college, Synovia felt called to service and enlisted in the Army. Synovia was stationed in Fort Campbell, served in Saudi Arabia for the Gulf War from 1990-1991 and ultimately spent four years with the Army.
After completing her service, Synovia went back to school. She settled down in Atlanta, got a job, started making a life for herself and eventually gave birth to a beautiful daughter. Synovia’s future took an unexpected turn when she became a single mother. Keeping the lights on as the sole breadwinner was challenging, especially on a modest income. Synovia did not have her college degree yet and struggled to find a way to climb the economic ladder. She worked extensively as a certified nursing assistant, supporting people with Alzheimer’s, providing memory care in assisted living facilities, distributing medications and taking care of just about anything patients needed. The wages Synovia earned as certified nursing assistant were modest, barely enough to get by.
One policy tool that helped Synovia make ends meet was a popular federal program called the Earned Income Tax Credit. Established in 1975, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a bottom-up tax cut for families working and earning modest wages. After filing tax returns, eligible households receive a credit that averages about $3,000 depending on income and family size. Taxpayers have to earn income to qualify for the credit, which is structured to incentivize work and phase out gradually as individuals approach the middle class. More than 1 million working Georgia households with low-to-moderate incomes like Synovia claimed the EITC in 2015, bringing about $3 billion into communities across the state.
The EITC “helped me out tremendously,” said Synovia. On a single income, the EITC and a similar credit called the Child Tax Credit came through to help her family afford basic necessities like clothing and utilities. The extra money from tax season also helped her keep food on the table for her daughter.
“It’s a survival thing,” Synovia said. “It helped me survive and get to where I am now.”
With hard work and some financial support from the EITC, Synovia persisted in her attempts to climb the economic ladder and focused on her education. Synovia couldn’t work as many hours while she juggled school and her studies. By effectively providing a wage boost, the EITC helped her manage work, school and being a single mother while paying the bills.
Synovia knows better than most how important tax policy is for working families. She ultimately graduated from Georgia State University with a degree in public management and currently works as a tax examiner for the Internal Revenue Service. She loves her job, her great team and the data-centric work. The solid wage doesn’t hurt either.
It’s a survival thing. It helped me survive and get to where I am now.
Georgia has the opportunity to expand on the success of the EITC for working families. Twenty-nine states build on the benefits of the federal EITC with similar credits to lower working families’ state taxes. Georgia isn’t on the list yet, though a bipartisan group of state lawmakers have discussed proposals to enact a “Georgia Work Credit” in recent years. The general public supports this idea as well with nearly 2 in 3 Georgians supporting the creation of a state EITC, according to a recent poll. Synovia is one of those Georgians, and she’s proud that a portion of her federal taxes helps support millions of other families embarking on journeys like her own. She hopes Georgia joins the majority of the country in giving working families a break on their state taxes to help them succeed.
Synovia’s daughter graduated high school this year. She now looks to craft her own future, building on the hard-earned opportunities provided by her mother and support from policies like the EITC. Synovia couldn’t be prouder of her daughter — and thankful for the financial support that made her family’s success possible. The EITC is “a lifesaver,” Synovia said. “I’m living proof of it.”
You can help working families like Synovia’s by contacting your state lawmakers and telling them about the Georgia Work Credit. Easily send an email using a editable template. Or find your legislators’ phone numbers on OpenStates.org and give them a call.