Americas found a suitable way to celebrate the long Presidents’ Day weekend: they went to the movies and spent a vault-load of dead Presidents, plus a bundle of Alexander Hamiltons (he graces the $10 bill). Each of the top five pictures—the holdovers Safe House, The Vow and Journey 2: The Mysterious Island and the debut films Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and This Means War—earned more than $20 million in a four-day weekend. Last weekend, when The Vow‘s $41.2 million narrowly beat Safe House‘s $40.2 million, it marked the first time that a pair of films had opened to more than $40 million in the same three-day weekend since WALL·E and Wanted in June 2008. Safe House, starring Denzel Washington as a rogue spy on the run with novice CIA agent Ryan Reynolds, cadged $28.4 million over the four-day holiday, to win the sweepstakes at North America theaters, according to the studios’ Monday estimates. The true-life weepie The Vow, featuring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum as the star-crossed lovers, was second with $26.6 million. And the Journey to the Center of the Earth sequel Journey 2: The Mysterious Island, which replaced Brendan Fraser as the father-figure adventurer with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, enjoyed an impressively steady “hold,” securing third place by dropping only 3% from its opening-weekend gross.
If there are any frowny faces in Tinseltown, they belong to the producers of the two big movies that opened this weekend. (MORE: See Mary Pols’ review of This Means War)
A ever bigger disappointment was Spirit of Vengeance, which brought Nicolas Cage back as Johnny Blaze in a sequel to Ghost Rider. Later that year, Cage’s National Treasure: Book of Secrets amassed $457.4 million worldwide. Last autumn’s Trespass, a hostage drama with Cage and Nicole Kidman, earned exactly $24,094 in its entire theatrical engagement. If belly-flopping were an Olympic diving event, Nic would win the gold medal.
Farther down the list, the rerelease of Star Wars: Episode 1—The Phantom Menace finished sixth. Disney opened The Secret World of Arrietty, the latest from Japanese ani-master Hayao Miyazaki, in 1,552 theaters and managed a decent $8.1 million. Arrietty has already earned $134.5 million worldwide, mostly in Japan.
(MORE: Read Mary Pols’ review of The Secret World of Arrietty)
Among Oscar contenders, The Descendants, in 11th place with $3.5 million, crossed the $75-million platform in its 14th week of release. In 12th place was The Artist, whose $3-million weekend take brought it to $28.1 million in its 13th week. The favorite to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, this Franco-American silent hymn to old Hollywood has yet to break into the top 10 grossers of any weekend. Here are the Monday estimates of this holiday weekend’s top-grossing pictures in North American theaters, with totals for three days (Friday to Sunday) and four days (Friday to Monday), as tabulated by The Hollywood Reporter:
Some say the only sure things in life are death and taxes.
Texas IRS Spokesperson Irma Treviño said everyone must pay their share of taxes to Uncle Sam, but adds that this year the IRS is hoping to give more working families a refund by promoting the Earned Income Tax Credit.
Treviño said it’s available for households that earned $49,000 or less in 2011 and who meet seven requirements.
"The earned income tax credit is a credit given to hard working families," Treviño said. "We are trying to promote this because there are a lot of families who might qualify, but might not know about the credit."
Some of the requirements that must be met before a household can claim the EITC include everyone in the household must have a valid social security number; married couples can not file individually; no foreign earned income and no investments of more than $3,000.
When families are deemed eligible, there could be thousands in refunds.
"For every family who has children under the age of 18 or 24 - as long as the children are attending full time college - they could qualify…for as much as $5,751."
Treviño said the more people there are with more money in their pockets, the better the outlook for the economy.
"The country is going through an economical crisis and we think the EITC is a good injection to the economy," Treviño said.
Single people can also apply for the tax credit, and not every household will qualify for the maximum amount.
Volunteers from the National Asian American Coalition help a man and a woman with special credits such as the earned income tax credit and child tax credit. With one in five eligible taxpayers not claiming the earned income tax credit, volunteers can play a major role in raising awareness.
“[The Earned Income Tax Credit] has met my basic needs, helped me pay my property tax, get caught up on utilities, buy a winter coat, and allowed me to make a deposit so my son could go to college. ... the EITC has given me more dignity.”
– A mother from Sunnyside, New York
“I qualified for $4,300 in Earned Income Tax Credit refunds from my taxes this year. The money is going to student loans, credit card bills and school supplies. I rely on this money to make it every year.”
– Anna of Littleton, Colorado; mother and graduate student
Today is Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day, a national day of grassroots action to highlight this life-changing credit.
Every year millions of low-income working families like Anna’s will claim the earned income tax credit. Born in 1975 to offset some of the effects of regressive payroll taxes, the earned income tax credit has grown to become one of the federal government’s most successful and effective antipoverty programs.
Strengthened several times since its inception by presidents on both sides of the aisle, the credit has historically enjoyed bipartisan support and has a long track record of helping working families make ends meet. Most taxpayers claiming the credit often do so for two consecutive years or less and end up paying billions more in net federal income tax than they receive in the earned income tax credit over time. To date nearly half of all states have created state earned income tax credits, which build on the success of the federal credit. Last year the credit served nearly 27 million people with nearly $59 billion in total credits.
Working taxpayers, both married and unmarried, with and without children, are eligible for the credit as long as they meet certain requirements, including those for age and earned income.
What’s more, the credit is refundable, which means that even if an eligible family does not owe federal income tax in a given year, they can still claim the full value of the credit (all families pay other forms of taxes, such as payroll taxes, federal excise taxes, or state and local sales taxes). The average credit in 2011 was $2,240.
In the spirit of the day, here are the three things you need to know about the earned income tax credit this year and how you can protect the tax credits that make such a difference for families nationwide:
The earned income tax credit lifts families out of poverty and supports our economy
This credit is a critical component of the social safety net. We’re living in a time where more people are living in poverty in this country than ever before—more than 46 million Americans are living below the poverty line, with women and communities of color bearing the brunt. Low- and moderate-income families are facing foreclosure or are seeing the value of their home decline. Low-wage jobs don’t pay enough to support a family and don’t include important benefits like paid sick leave, workplace flexibility, or opportunities to save for the future.
Safety-net programs like the earned income tax credit are increasingly important in these dire times. Last year the earned income tax credit lifted 6.6 million people, including 3.3 million children, out of poverty.
The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program can also help low-income adults and families keep more money in their pockets. Through this program eligible taxpayers (typically those earning less than $50,000) can have their taxes prepared free of charge by volunteers at sites in communities across the country. The program helps reduce reliance on paid preparers and predatory financial products like refund anticipation loans, which are high-interest loans taxpayers can purchase for the amount of their expected refund. Such loans can trap families in a dangerous cycle of debt and undermine their economic security.
The earned income tax credit can also help boost the economy during recessions and periods of slow growth. Cash-strapped states facing devastating budget cuts and layoffs see an economic boost from the credit. When low-income families receive their refund check, they purchase groceries, child care, school supplies, and more, increasing demand for the goods and services of local businesses, which ultimately benefits the economy as a whole. In fact, economists suggest that for every earned income tax credit dollar received by low- and moderate-income families, an economic benefit of $1.50 to $2.00 is generated in the local economy.
In states with a high proportion of low-wage jobs, the earned income tax credit can make a big impact. In Texas, for example, more than 2.5 million people claimed the credit in 2011, and nearly $6.5 billion was brought into the state last year to flow back into local economies.
Recent policy changes expanded and improved the credit
In 2009 Congress recognized the need to make the tax code work better for working families and made significant improvements to the earned income tax credit.
To reflect the cost of raising an additional child, Congress increased the credit for families with three or more children, allowing them to claim up to an additional $600 annually. Prior to that change, families with three or more children would receive the same credit as those with two children.
Congress also took steps to lessen the “marriage penalty,” a consequence of the then-current law that caused low-income workers who married to lose some of their benefits.
As a result of these changes, the families of 13.5 million children were either made eligible for the earned income tax credit or saw an increased credit, according to Tax Policy Center estimates.
As part of these tax reforms, Congress also expanded eligibility for the child tax credit, an important tax credit that helps families cover some of the cost of raising children by allowing families to count more of their income in calculating the credit.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the changes to the earned income tax credit and child tax credit kept 1.6 million people out of poverty.
Finally, the IRS recently created a simple tax form to promote asset building among all families. Form 8888 allows families to directly deposit their refunds into their checking or savings accounts, purchase savings bonds, and split refunds between bank accounts.
Low-income families have much at stake in the tax fight later this year
Unfortunately, the changes to the earned income tax credit and child tax credit made a few years ago are set to expire at the end of this year, leaving hardworking low-income families with a lot on the line. If Congress fails to make these changes permanent or extend them, we will turn the clock backwards.
Without their expanded earned income tax credit, more families could slip into poverty as they struggle to make ends meet with less. Low-income families use their credit to pay down medical bills, ward off eviction and homelessness, and save for their children’s future. With a diminished credit, struggling families will be forced to make up the difference—potentially putting their health, their economic security, or their child’s wellbeing at risk.
To offset some of the cost of the likely deal to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the rest of the year, House Republicans are proposing to restrict eligibility for the refundable child tax credit to only those with social security numbers. Historically, families with Individual Tax Payer ID Numbers have been eligible for the credit. This move would unfairly target low-income immigrant families, who use Individual Tax Payer ID Numbers to file and pay federal taxes because they don’t have social security numbers.
These attacks on the safety net and the tax credits that help families make ends meet are likely just a preview of what’s to come later this year as we near the expiration of these improvements and the Bush tax cuts in December 2012.
That’s why it’s critical to start building the public and political will in support of these transformative tax credits today.
What you can do
This Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day, take a stand for hardworking families like Stephenie’s, whose credit helped her catch up on her rent and pay her bills.
One way to help is to send us your story about how tax credits help you, your family, or your community.
With one in five eligible taxpayers not claiming the credit, volunteers can play a major role in raising awareness. You can spread the word about free tax assistance through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program—locate a site near you today or sign up to serve as a volunteer tax preparer. To locate a site near you, call 1.800.906.9887.
Finally, you can urge your member of Congress to protect these important improvements to the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.
Vulnerable families shouldn’t have to worry about losing their eligibility or receiving a smaller credit, especially at a time when Congress will be considering extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.
With your help, they won’t have to. Make your voice heard this EITC Awareness Day.
Katie Wright is the Special Assistant for the Half in Ten Campaign at the Center for American Progress.
WATSONVILLE - If you're one of the more than 20,000 Santa Cruz County families making less than $50,000 a year, Uncle Sam may have a nice surprise for you at tax time.
Through the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, you may be eligible for a refund of up to $5,751 - even if no taxes were withheld from your pay in 2011.
Some low-income individuals can claim the credit too, and if you need help figuring it all out, free tax preparation assistance is available.
That was the message representatives from local nonprofits and the IRS wanted to get out with a presentation at the Watsonville Certified Farmers Market on Friday.
"Out of five people who qualify across the nation, only four claim (the credit)," said Raul Polo, a tax specialist with the IRS. "That's why we're out trying to reach the maximum."
The credit, the nation's largest anti-poverty program, is designed to improve the finances of the working poor.
Jan Shirchild of nonprofit Project Scout, which provides free tax preparation assistance to low-income people and senior citizens, said it works. She said last year, she helped a woman who was living in her pickup and was separated from her daughter because of the living arrangement. She had a line on an apartment, but didn't have the first and last month's rent for the deposit. Her earned income credit gave her the cash she needed to rent the place and reunite her family.
It's good for the community, too, as the refunds are typically spent, keeping businesses open and workers employed, Shirchild said.
"I makes a huge difference," she said.
The average credit received last year by county residents was $1,600.
Jenna Grambort, an attorney with the Watsonville Law Center, advised against using professional tax preparers who charge fees for a service available for free, and sometimes persuade taxpayers to take what's known as an "instant refund" but is essentially a high-interest loan. A better plan, she said, is to go to a volunteer tax preparer - who must pass the same certifying tests as the professionals - and file electronically. Refunds generally come in seven to 10 days, she said.
Volunteers work at sites throughout the county. Hours vary. For information, call 211.