Provide a Refundable $500 Tax Credit for Low and Middle-income Workers

Promise Hedged President Obama hedged on the following promises:

"Obama will provide all low- and middle-income workers a $500 Making Work Pay tax credit to offset the payroll tax those workers pay in every paycheck." — Obama's Blueprint for Change

"Senator Obama has proposed a new refundable tax credit for wage earners and the self-employed. His Making Work Pay credit would equal 6.2 percent of up to $8,100 of earnings (yielding a maximum credit of approximately $500). Spouses filing jointly would each claim the credit based on their own earnings.9 To match the campaign’s stated revenue targets, we assume the credit phases out based on adjusted gross income at a 5 percent rate beginning at $75,000 ($150,000 for couples). All thresholds would be indexed for inflation after 2009." — Obama campaign interviews with the Tax Policy Center


"For 95 percent of workers and their families — 150 million workers overall — the “Making Work Pay” credit will provide a refundable tax cut of $500 for workers or $1,000 for working couples. This credit will benefit over 15 million self employed workers and for 10 million low-income Americans, will completely eliminate their federal income taxes." — Obama's Comprehensive Tax Plan


Other promises regarding taxes.


Updated: February 17, 2009

Congress trims Obama's tax cut for workers

One of the bigger pieces of the economic stimulus bill is the "Making Work Pay" tax credit, an initiative that Obama mentioned often during his campaign. If you ever heard Obama say he would give a tax cut to "95 percent of working families," this program is the origin of that claim.

Obama said the credit was intended to offset payroll taxes, which are automatically deducted from most workers' paychecks. Even if workers make so little that they do not owe income tax, the payroll taxes are not refundable. This is supposed to reimburse them for that. Under Obama's plan, the tax credit would be worth about $500 per worker, or $1,000 for working couples.

The initial version of the stimulus bill in the House, like Obama's original promise, was for $500 per worker. But that was reduced in the Senate to $400 per worker as a way of reducing the overall cost of the package. That lower level of $400 per worker, for a total cost of $116.2 billion, made it into the final bill. Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 on Feb. 17, 2009.

We should also note that the stimulus bill provides the tax cut only for 2009 and 2010. If Obama wants the tax cut to continue beyond those years, he will have to include it in future budget legislation. Indeed, it's possible Obama could raise the amount to $500 that way. But for the present, we find Obama tried to fulfill his promise and fell slightly short of the goal because Congress trimmed it to $400.


Thomas, The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, accessed Feb. 17, 2009, Tax cuts for 95 percent? A closer look, Oct. 20, 2008

Updated: January 25, 2009

Committee plan includes tax cut

On Jan. 16, 2009, the U.S. House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee released its plans for a major stimulus bill, and the tax cut is part of that. This put Barack Obama one step closer to achieving his promise of a $500 tax cut for workers.

"For 2009 and 2010, the bill would provide a refundable tax credit of up to $500 for working individuals and $1,000 for working families," said a summary released by the committee. "This tax credit would be calculated at a rate of 6.2% of earned income, and would phase out for taxpayers with adjusted gross income in excess of $75,000 ($150,000 for married couples filing jointly). Taxpayers can receive this benefit through a reduction in the amount of income tax that is withheld from their paychecks, or through claiming the credit on their tax returns."


U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Ways and Means, "The American Economic Recovery and Reinvestment Plan," Jan. 16, 2009, accessed Jan. 18, 2009.

Updated: January 13, 2009

Tax cut is included in economic recovery plan

One of Barack Obama's oft-repeated promises was a middle-class tax cut. During the campaign, he proposed it as rebate on payroll taxes for most workers.

Obama's team has been working on a major economic proposal to jump-start the economy, and Obama has said a tax cut will be part of that.

"To get people spending again, 95% of working families will receive a $1,000 tax cut – the first stage of a middle-class tax cut that I promised during the campaign and will include in our next budget," Obama said in a speech at George Mason University.

We'll be watching to see if this proposal actually becomes law.


Barack Obama transition Web site, speech at George Mason University, Jan. 8, 2009.

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