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Economy & Business

Local Advocates Push To Get Child Tax Credit Payments To ‘Families Who Need It Most’

kids_playing.jpg
Kathleen J. Davis
/
90.5 WESA
Children play in this undated file photo.

It’s a recent weekday afternoon in Beechview, and Jimena Willey, a bilingual tax preparer for the nonprofit Just Harvest, is giving a presentation and answering questions in Spanish about the newly-expanded child tax credit.

It’s part of a push by local advocates to make sure the federal tax credit – and its monthly payments – are reaching every family who is eligible for it.

The tax credit was expanded as part of the Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, temporarily increasing the credit’s maximum amount to $3,000 per child annually and $3,600 per child under age six.

“In the past, a single parent who was earning, working hard, earning $10,000 might not be receiving the full amount [of the credit] because of the way it was calculated,” said Kristie Weiland Stagno, who heads the free tax prep coalition for Just Harvest. “But with these changes… they will get the full $3,000 per child. So, it's a huge increase for the lowest income working families who need it most.”

Payments started going out in July.

The expansion has the potential to be life-changing for some poor families. But because it is being administered through the Internal Revenue Service, there’s concern those families could miss out due to language or technology barriers, or because they don’t normally have enough income to file taxes.

There’s been some other outreach through the Allegheny County Department of Human Services, which sent text messages to families, and via the United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s 2-1-1 social services hotline.

Willey’s presentation at the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation was intended to reach families who primarily speak Spanish, which is key, she said.

“[Someone can] explain to the community, in Spanish, in their own language, what is a tax return … what it means to pay taxes here. It's really important. And they get they get to understand more clearly, and they are not afraid, or they have the education now to come every single year and file their taxes,” Willey said.

She said people who are undocumented immigrants can file and pay taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). Children who are U.S. citizens qualify for the tax credit, though some mixed-status families have reported problems with getting the payments.

In-person events to assist people are important, said Weiland Stagno, speaking at an event this summer at the Just Harvest offices in the South Side.

A lot of people who haven't been filing a tax return are really unsure about the process,” Weiland Stagno said. “They also probably have a lot of barriers. We're talking about families with SSI [Supplemental Security Income] only, Social Security or TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families]. They obviously have kids at home. They haven't been filing a return, so they're not used to the process and kind of the paperwork involved. The people coming today, some of them are coming with caseworkers from other organizations. We have people with limited English capabilities…who just would be harder to answer those questions over the phone or to go through the online processes themselves, they may not have Internet access or a smartphone or be able to get through the security checks for the online portals that the IRS has set up.”

Payments of $250 or $300 per child are being sent on the 15th of each month. The most recent round of payments, about $15 billion, went to 36 million families nationally in August, mainly by direct deposit, according to the IRS.

For more information go to www.justharvest.org, or to schedule an appointment for tax assistance call 412-431-8960.

Do I qualify for the expanded child tax credit?

If you have a child or children ages 17 or younger, you could qualify for $3,000 for each child between 6 and 17 years old and $3,600 for each child under 6. The IRS has said it will begin making monthly payments to families July 15. If you already filed a 2019 or 2020 tax return you don't need to do anything else.

· For more information on the credit, and if your family qualifies: childtaxcredit.gov.

· If you didn’t file a 2020 tax return, but think you might qualify for the credit: IRS.gov non-filer sign up tool

· For more information: EITC outreach