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Kamala Harris revives tax credit push to help people pay for housing costs

2020 presidential hopeful would provide refundable tax credits

Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is reviving a housing tax credit proposal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., is reviving a housing tax credit proposal. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris is reviving her proposal to provide new tax credits to help families with high housing costs.

The California senator on Tuesday will reintroduce the Rent Relief Act, which would establish refundable tax credits in cases when rent and utilities exceed 30 percent of a household’s income.

She first introduced the legislation last July, with a handful of Senate Democrats as co-sponsors, including New York’s Kirsten Gillibrand, who is also running for president.

“Housing is a human right, and we must act now to end the affordable housing crisis and provide relief to working families who are worried about making each month’s rent,” Harris said in a statement.

In a statement provided to Roll Call ahead of the formal release, Harris said the tax credit would ensure “basic security and dignity that every American deserves to have in their own home.”

In a change from last year’s version, the new bill would provide a mechanism for the Treasury Department to pay out the tax credit, which is refundable, on a monthly basis to eligible households.

The tax credit’s availability gradually decreases as household gross income increases, and it is dependent on the rent paid being in line with the average cost of housing in a given neighborhood.

Refundable tax credits are paid out by the government even in cases when there is no income tax liability, making them a frequent target for criticism by conservatives.

Harris has made highlighting the extent to which many American families live on the precipice of financial ruin one of the key themes of her presidential campaign, including housing costs and unexpected expenses.

That includes a stop last week at a California Labor Federation and State Building and Construction Trades Council dinner in Sacramento.

“In America right now today, almost half of Americans are a $400 unexpected expense away from complete upheaval,” Harris said on April 1. “That could be the car breaking down. That could be a hospital bill you didn’t see coming, $400 that will upheave that whole family.”

“In America today, 99 percent of the counties in our country, if you are a minimum wage worker working full-time, you cannot afford market rate for a one-bedroom apartment,” she said.

The housing proposal is not Harris’ only ambitious refundable tax proposal. At the start of the 116th Congress in January, she reintroduced a bill that would provide up to $6,000 a year in credits to families making less than $100,000 annually, seeking to provide assistance to offset the increased cost of living.

Harris is not alone among Democratic presidential candidates in proposing tax benefits to help lower-income families deal with the cost of rent. New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker included language with a similar intent in legislation that would provide refundable credits.

A version of the Booker plan introduced last year uses adjusted gross income as a barometer.

Like the many other Democrats running for president in 2020, Harris is keeping up an aggressive campaign schedule, including another swing through Iowa this week.

Also watch: Kamala Harris is running for president — Here are some congressional basics

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