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Rewarding Work, Not Idleness

`IF you work 40 hours a week and you have children in the home, you should not be in poverty."

That statement, made by President Clinton last week, ran as a theme through his presidential campaign. Now, as one way of helping to lift working families out of poverty or near-poverty, the president has proposed doubling the size of the earned income tax credit program to $25.4 billion within the next four years. Under this plan, every dollar a low-wage working parent earns up to a designated ceiling qualifies for a cut in taxes.

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The tax credit is available to both married and single parents, even those who earn too little to owe federal income tax. About 1 in 3 American families now qualifies for assistance under the program. By 1997, the program would benefit 2 of every 5 families. The increases are partly aimed at offsetting the effect of new energy taxes.

Although the proposal enjoys bipartisan support, some critics complain that it comes at a time when lawmakers are looking for ways to slash budgets and to cut another entitlement, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, which benefits the poorest families. Yet as Mr. Clinton has pointed out, politicians have long said they want to reward work, not idleness. The earned income tax credit does just that, signaling that work is important and will be rewarded. It also offers an incentive to report income.

Tax credits are, of course, only part of the solution. Longer-term strategies must focus on reshaping the economy and creating higher-paying jobs. Other efforts to help the working poor must include job training and education. But for now, the plan represents one way of aiding parents who are making an honest effort to support their families, playing by the rules but still losing ground economically.

Like the family leave bill, Clinton signed soon after taking office, this proposal signals his commitment to helping working families. It is welcome. It holds the promise of improving the well-being of the nation's youngest and most vulnerable citizens - poor and near-poor children - who have too long been ignored.

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