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HOW NOT TO HELP POOR TAXPAYERS

Once again, Washington has let good intentions triumph over good judgment.

The latest lapse started during budget negotiations last year when both the White House and Congress agreed to expand the earned income tax credit, which gives cash back to poor working families. By this method, nearly $7 billion in federal dollars were plowed back into state and local economies in 1989.Though the good intentions were simple, the "improvements" quickly got complicated. One legislator wanted to reward families that buy health insurance. Another lawmaker wanted to help big families more than small families. Still another wanted to make sure that the credit wouldn't nullify other benefits.

On it went until the credit, which had required filling out a single line on a standard tax form, now requires a separate two-page form. And that form, as Scripps Howard News Service reported this week, can be filled out only by referring to a five-page booklet of tax tables.

All of which makes it increasingly unlikely that people who need it will take advantage of the earned income tax credit. What's the next improvement: a special deduction for poor people who hire accountants to help them figure out their tax forms?

The earned income tax credit must not be left in its present snarl but must be straightened out. Unfortunately, the job of simplication can be done only by the same people who created the present complications.