By Joe Sanberg and Laura Capps
As school board members, you help thousands of families every day in your community by working to ensure their children receive the best education possible. You also help kids grow up healthy and make sure they thrive by helping schools support their emotional, nutritional and social needs. Did you know that you can also help many low-income families meet their basic needs, such as transportation and housing, by helping them boost their income by claiming substantial cash payments?
Here’s how: the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) is a cash-back tax credit that puts money back into the pockets of California’s families and individuals. It is relatively new in California, but nationally it’s proven to be one of the most effective ways to fight poverty. And as the state with the highest poverty rate in the nation when adjusted for cost of living, we see the impact of poverty every day, especially among our students. The sad but undeniable fact is that poverty is the biggest detriment to a child’s ability to thrive in school.
The way the Earned Income Tax Credit works is simple. If you’re working for a low wage, at the end of the year you will get money back from the government based on how much you earned and how many children you have. It literally makes work pay better. When people have more money to spend on the essential goods and services they need, local businesses benefit as well, and more jobs are created in the community. The people who earn the EITC are fellow Californians who make our communities work, with jobs in areas such as healthcare, education, agriculture, housekeeping and food service.
The EITC helps everyone — especially children. According to the California Budget Center, more than 9 in 10 CalEITC dollars go to families with children. And most recipients of the EITC are single, working moms who use the extra cash to provide for their children’s basic needs. In fact, studies show that children in low-income families that claim the EITC are more likely to attend college and less likely to experience poverty as adults.
CalEITC4Me is a public–private partnership that spreads awareness about California’s Earned Income Tax Credit to ensure more families take advantage of it. This year we’ve launched partnerships with school districts across the state to increase enrollment in CalEITC and bring more dollars back to struggling families and communities.
As school board members know well, public school districts are a trusted voice in the community that can reach thousands of working parents. CalEITC4Me works with districts to hold events for families, offering tools to identify eligible filers and help them access free tax preparation services. The goal of the partnership is to overcome challenges that often prevent families from filing their taxes and receiving a tax credit, including language barriers, expensive tax preparation services and a lack of awareness about what the EITC is and who is eligible.
And now there is more money than ever for people to claim. Last year, CalEITC4Me, coalition partners and thousands of CalEITC recipients convinced the state legislature to triple the program so that 1.1 million more people qualify for this tax credit.
We’re reaching out with the hope that your district will join us in this critical work in three ways:
- Spread the word: We’ve developed a toolkit, CalEITC in Schools, available at CalEITC4me.org/helpful-materials to help you share information and resources with families, including flyers, social media content and graphics, and draft email language to include in your district and school communications. Materials are also available in Spanish, Mandarin and Vietnamese.
- Help families learn if they are eligible: You can direct families to www.CalEITC4me.org/earn-it to find out if they’re eligible and how much cash back they can expect and where to access free tax preparation help near where they live and work.
- Hold free tax-prep events in your schools – with our help!: We will jump at the chance to help you organize an event before tax day. Contact us at www.CalETIC4Me.org
Together, we can help improve the financial lives of families in our school communities in a very direct and tangible way. CalEITC cash back refunds provide hard working low-income families with greater food and housing security — key elements in student success.
Joe Sanberg is the founder of CalEITC4Me, and Laura Capps is a member of the Board of Trustees for Santa Barbara Unified School District.