Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Outreach appears needed to help many rural poor learn about the newly expanded child tax credit, paid monthly

The expansion of the child tax credit by President Biden and Democrats in Congress is the first time the federal government has tried to reduce child poverty through widely available direct payments. It could cut child poverty in half, but only if the poorest families can access it. That poses a problem. 

"It’s clear that delivering on that assurance is going to demand a complex, multi-agency effort quite unlike anything the federal government has done before," Chabeli Carrazana reports for The 19th, a newsroom that focuses on women. "To get there, the administration has to devise a plan to reach the nation’s lowest wage earners, who qualify for the money for the first time. It has to reach the people who don’t pay income taxes and aren’t known to the Internal Revenue Service. It has to reach communities that don’t have permanent addresses or contact information. It has to reach undocumented folks whose children now qualify for the money."

The expansion increased the amount per child and made the payments monthly instead of annual, with the filing of tax returns. It also made the credit fully available for the first time to the lowest-wage families, who don't pay income taxes, Carrazana reports.

"But many don’t know the expansion happened. Even if they do, information about what they have to do to get it is still scarce. Many lack access to a computer or don’t have the digital literacy to fill out the form and provide the necessary paperwork. Making a mistake is costly — it could bar them from getting the credit for two or 10 years, depending on whether the mistake was careless or intentional. "The work of finding those people, educating them and helping them through the process is going to fall on hundreds of community organizations who are taking on the task — sometimes as volunteers. And the timeline to do it is short: The first monthly checks under the expanded credit will begin rolling out on July 15."

Another problem, especially in rural areas, is that the portal can't be viewed on a smartphone. Rural residents who have internet access, especially the poor, are more likely to access it via a smartphone.

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