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Letter: Information on American Opportunity Education Credit

(This letter is in response to a letter printed in the July 16, 2010 issue of the Levittown Tribune, entitled “Discrepancies in Schumer Speech at MacArthur Graduation.”)

Washington critics often joke that, “the most dangerous place to stand in our nation’s capitol, is between Senator Charles Schumer and the nearest television camera.” Tune into the evening news, on a hot and sultry “slow news night,” and you’re bound to see Schumer expounding on any issue that will gain him media coverage. The man is obviously a media hound, yet, over the past decade has risen to become one of the most powerful and influential members of the United States Senate.

I suspect high school and college commencement exercises, with their captive audiences, are surely another venue for Schumer to broaden his profile among New York voters. Who, for example, isn’t encouraged and challenged to succeed after listening to Schumer’s “corny” personal tale leading up to his entrance into New York City politics, as one of New York’s youngest legislators?

Unfortunately, as Mrs. Handel pointed out in her July 16 letter, it appears the good senator went a bit too far in attempting to titillate his Levittown audiences. Schumer’s address, this year, differed from those in the past as he attempted to “pat himself on the back” while extolling the virtues of the American Opportunity Education Credit, for which he takes credit. Schumer explained the eligibility provisions of this legislation and to the applause of his audiences concluded, as Mrs. Handel points out, with the timing of the late Jack Benny, “...And for those families earning over $200,000 a year; (pause) Lots of luck!” Ironically, what the good Senator stated wasn’t entirely incorrect; although it was misleading and had all the connotation of vote for me, I’m your friend!

Fortunately, Mrs. Handel, a mother of two college students, was listening to Senator Schumer and pointed out the errors on legislation for which Schumer takes personal credit. The American Opportunity Education Credit, available for 2009-2010 only, is gradually phased out when the Modified Adjusted Gross Income (MAGI) of married couples, filing a joint return, is between $160,000-$180,000 or $80,000-$90,000, for single filers; heads of household or a qualifying widow/widower. A married taxpayer filing separately is not eligible for this credit, which amounts to $2,500 per eligible student. IRS Publications 970 and several other documents discuss this credit and provide worksheets to calculate a family’s MAGI and possible Alternative Minimum Tax (AMT) consequences.

I look forward to the senator’s appearance at next year’s commencement exercises as he processes into the Hofstra University arena, 10 minutes late, in full view of the entire audience. Timing is everything!

James P. Ward

Trustee, Levittown School District Board of Education