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With Text Messages, Flyers, And Outreach To Social Service Groups, Advocates Push To Get The Word Out On Child Tax Credit Payments

CORRECTS LAST NAME FROM VELLO TO BELLO - Vice President Kamala Harris talks with bilingual early childhood education school CentroNia pupils Jayden Bello, left, and Celina Barrera during a visit to the school, Friday, June 11, 2021 in northwest Washington. Teacher Billo Diawara, right, assists the pupils.
Manuel Balce Ceneta
Many parents will qualify for the child tax credit, starting in July

Advocates are planning a push to let local families know about the expanded child tax credit program and the federal monthly payments they could start receiving in July.

The expanded credit has been touted as a having the potential to cut U.S. child poverty in half – but there’s concern it won’t reach that potential if the families who need it most don’t know about it or can’t access it.

Some who qualify for the program do not file taxes because their income is so low.

“The outreach need is very critical…because people who need it the most and can benefit the most will not see it automatically,” said Roxy Caines, earned income tax credit outreach campaign director at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

That’s why people like Kristie Weiland Stagno of the Pittsburgh-based anti-hunger nonprofit Just Harvest are organizing outreach to social service agencies like homeless shelters, immigrant organizations, and family centers.

Weiland Stagno, who heads a free tax prep program, said advocates will use flyers, trainings for other providers, and social media messages to spread the word.

“We are thinking through now how to best reach those families and make sure that they know about the child tax credit and are able to file a return to get it,” she said.

The Allegheny County Department of Human Services will send text messages to families informing them about the program. The messages will be sent to about 10,000 people active in family-serving programs, according to the department.

At United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania, the 2-1-1 social services hotline will be available to answer questions and can refer people to the IRS tool, said Alena Anderson, program manager at United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania.

Connecting families to benefit will be critical, said Anderson, both because of how important the money is, but also because many might not have experience dealing with this government agency.

“The IRS is intimidating to people,” she said.

Unlike in past years, the credit will be paid out monthly starting in July. The IRS estimates that about 12 percent of children are in families who don't normally file a tax return Weiland Stagno said; those families will need to file a return or sign up on an IRS web site.

Vice President Kamala Harris highlighted the credit in her recent visit to Pittsburgh on what The White House dubbed “Child Tax Credit Awareness Day.”

"Wherever you run into people, perfect strangers, just go on up and introduce yourself, and tell them about the child tax credit," Harris joked.

The Biden administration’s American Rescue Plan, enacted earlier this year, temporarily increased the credit’s maximum amount to $3,000 per child and $3,600 per child under age six.

Prior to the changes, the families of about 27 million kids, half of whom were Black and Latino, received less than the full credit ($2,000 per child) because their parents earned too little money, according to an analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That left out about 893,000 children in Pennsylvania, according to the center’s analysis.

“A large share of low-income children, modest income children, did not receive the full amount,” said Chuck Marr, director of federal tax policy at the center.

The credit’s expansion is hugely significant, particularly if it is made permanent, he said.

“That will go towards helping families pay rent, put food on the table, provide clothing for the children, activities. So, really just a significant sum, you know, real money for middle class kids, but for low-income children, really a potentially a life changing event.”

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:

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

· For more information: EITC outreach

Corrected: June 29, 2021 at 11:49 AM EDT
This story was revised to reflect Alena Anderson's correct job title.
Kate Giammarise focuses her reporting on poverty, social services and affordable housing. Before joining WESA, she covered those topics for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for nearly five years; prior to that, she spent several years in the paper’s Harrisburg bureau covering the legislature, governor and state government. She can be reached at or 412-697-2953.