The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the largest federal anti-poverty program in the country, yet one in five eligible families with low income in our community are not receiving it. Alongside our partner Foundation Communities, United Way for Greater Austin is helping thousands of local families take advantage of this credit and reducing hesitation around tax filing through PACES.
PACES, Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences through Collaboration and Economic Supports, is a collaboration between United Way for Greater Austin, Foundation Communities, and the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing at The University of Texas. The project has a three-pronged approach:
- Increase public knowledge about tax credits
- Expand access to low or no cost tax filing options
- Conduct research to ensure even more families with young children in Austin’s Eastern Crescent receive these credits
The project focuses on helping eligible families access two tax credits: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). The EITC increases families’ overall income, and the CTC offers up to $3,600 per child–which can be life-changing.
By improving financial stability for families with low income, we can reduce the risk of potentially traumatic childhood experiences, which are strongly linked to poverty and can have repercussions into adulthood.
This past tax season, PACES connected nearly 11,000 people to free tax preparation services through Foundation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help program, returning a total of $24.1 million to families in the Greater Austin area.
Gabriela Mordi, Project Manager at Foundation Communities, led the outreach efforts alongside United Way’s PACES Coordinator Francisco Gallegos.
“We would like to see more families claim these credits–they can be life-changing,” Mordi said. “We are focusing specifically in the Eastern Crescent on families with young children, and trying to tailor the messaging to remove those barriers to accessing this credit. And when families we serve are better able to access these credits…it’s a big opportunity for families to improve their financial situation. Having financial stability can really serve as a mitigating factor against adverse childhood experiences.”
Still, about 20% of eligible families are not claiming this cash assistance. To increase awareness, PACES led outreach efforts that reached over 400,000 people in our community, including 14 community outreach events and three tax preparation drop-off events at Austin Public Library.
“I think oftentimes marginalized communities are scared and reluctant to pursue [free tax preparation],” PACES Coordinator Francisco Gallegos said. “My hope is that our outreach strategies, namely our efforts to develop more culturally competent outreach materials, instill a sense of trust and mitigate these concerns.”
Mordi says there’s still work to be done to help even more families become financially stable, and hopes to reach hundreds more families through PACES.
“Growing up in a low income household…you start reflecting back on some of the limitations of your upbringing,” Mordi said. “[I see] myself in the community we’re trying to reach–as a child, wishing that my parents would’ve known about programs that could’ve made it a little easier or [given us] a step up into long-term sustainability and success. I truly believe changing the lives of children at this point in their life [will have] positive effects into their adulthood.”
There’s still time for families to claim these credits. Foundation Communities’ Prosper Tax Help summer program is now open through October 15 to help families free of charge with these services:
- Filing and correcting federal income tax returns (2021 and prior year returns)
- Accessing the 2021 Child Tax Credit and stimulus checks
- Responding to IRS letters
- Applying for and renewing Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs)
Walk-in and appointment services are available in both English and Spanish. Learn more at foundcom.org/austin-tax-help.
And, learn more about Advance United, our work ensuring children with young children are financially stable.