Medicaid waiver payments were earned income, even though IRS Notice 2014-7 treated them as “difficulty of care” foster care payments that were excluded from gross income. The Tax Court held that excluding the payments from earned income would improperly deny the taxpayers’ earned income credit and the additional child tax credit.

IRS Excludes Medicaid Waiver Payments From Gross Income

The taxpayers received payments under a state Medicaid waiver program for proving care to their adult disabled children in the family home. IRC §131 excludes foster care payments from gross income, but it applies only when the foster individuals are placed in the caregiver’s home by the state. Despite the statutory language, however, Notice 2014-7 treats Medicaid waiver payments as excludable “difficulty of care” foster payments. Thus, the taxpayers excluded the payments from their gross income.

Gross Income Vs. Earned Income

However, the taxpayers included the payments in their earned income, which allowed them to claim the earned income credit and the additional child tax credit. The IRS denied the credits, arguing that only gross income can be earned income. The Tax Court sided with the taxpayers.

No Deference For Notice 2014-7

The court concluded that Notice 2014-7 was entitled to little if any deference for two reasons:

  1. The taxpayers’ payments did not satisfy the plain statutory definition of excludable foster care payments.
  2. The notice reversed the IRS’s long-held position that payments like these were not foster care payments

Although the Medicaid waiver payments were not covered by §131, they absolutely fell within the statutory definition of “earned income.” The IRS could not rely on Notice 2014-7 to deny credits that Congress clearly intended to provide for earned income.

IRS, Not Congress, Provided Double Benefit

Finally, the court recognized that the taxpayers were receiving an unintended double benefit, because they were getting tax credits that were based on tax-free income. However, this was only because the IRS:

  1. unilaterally decided to exclude Medicaid waiver
    payments from gross income, and
  2. failed to argue that if the Tax Court included the payments in earned income, they should also be included in gross income.