Earned Income Tax Credit Linked To Fewer Low Birth Weight Babies: Study

Although a recent report showed that one in five taxpayers eligible for the the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) will fail to claim it, researchers from the University of California, Davis say that expectant mothers may not want to miss out.

The tax break, instituted in 1975 to help families of low and moderate wage earners offset the burden of Social Security taxes, added $2,200 to the average filer's return, according to TIME magazine who looked at why the credit is so often overlooked. That additional income put more money in the pockets of pregnant mothers in the UC Davis study, which researchers believe went to use to pay for doctor visits where they received prenatal care.

As a result, UC Davis researchers saw a 7 percent reduction in the rates of low birth weight babies overall, and an 8.2 percent reduction among African Americans.

"The EITC reduces poverty, it increases the number of women in the workforce, and it may generate health benefits we have not quantified before," said Hilary Hoynes, professor of economics at UC Davis and the study's primary author, in a release. "This adds to a small, but growing, literature on the potential health benefits of nonhealth programs in the safety net," she added.

According to Hoynes' research on poverty, inequality and the impacts of government tax and transfer programs on low-income families, the EITC reduces poverty in two ways: by increasing income immediately with a cash credit and by creating incentives for people to stay in jobs to get the tax credit.

But those who qualify -- primarily those with earnings under $50,000 -- may have to wait longer than usual to receive the return. In a statement released by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service on Friday, IRS employees have been scrutinizing claims for the EITC more closely, as it has functioned as a frequent target of fraud.

About one in 12 U.S. infants are born with low birth weight, which carries the risk of infection, developmental delays, and even death, according to the March of Dimes. Women who are African American, younger than 17 or older than 35, and how have a low income are more likely than other women to have a low-birthweight baby, the foundation says.