Dr. Angelov Farooq Board Member, Riverside Unified School District & Joe Sanberg Founder, CalEITC4Me
Inland Southern California families work hard to put food on the table and put their kids through school. Unfortunately, a job alone is no longer enough to provide for a family and stay out of poverty.
The social contract we were all raised on—working 40 hours a week should allow you to live with dignity and financial security—has broken down for most working Americans, and Inland Southern California is no exception. According the Public Policy Institute of California, those in the bottom ten percent in Riverside County saw their income drop by 35 percent over the last decade.
This is personal for us. Both of us were raised by single working mothers and we know how hard it is to transcend challenging economic circumstances. We believe that all families should have the opportunity to live with financial security and meet life’s basic needs.
That’s why we’re joining forces to boost the income of working families on the lowest rungs of the pay ladder, through a program called the earned income tax credit (EITC). The EITC is a cash back tax credit that puts money back into the pockets of California’s families and individuals. EITC is a powerful poverty alleviation tool as three out of five credit recipients use it temporarily (one or two years) due to changes in marital, parental, and financial status. Most are single working moms, like ours were, and use the credit to provide their children with basic needs.
The way the EITC works is simple: if you’re working for a low wage, at the end of the year you 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 do better and more jobs are created in the community. The EITC helps everyone.
This is why we are excited to collaborate with school districts to engage qualifying families. We are proud to share that on November 4, 2017, we convened a successful engagement event between Riverside Unified School District (RUSD) and CalEITC4Me, that reached about 650 attendees, to help more Riverside families get the tax credits they’ve earned. CalEITC4Me is statewide public-private outreach and education campaign bringing together government agencies and community partners to ensure the EITC reaches those Californians with the greatest need.
CalEITC4Me and RUSD are working together to overcome the 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 EITC eligibility. RUSD and many public school districts are a trusted voice in the community that can reach thousands of working parents, and CalEITC4Me offers tools to identify eligible filers and help them reach free tax preparation services. We understand how relevant this issue is for our families since about 66% of RUSD students qualify for free or reduced lunch based on their family income.
In 2017, Riverside residents received $13,260,359 in cash-back refunds through the state and federal EITC. However, more work remains to be done. In 2012 alone, $136 million in federal EITC was left unclaimed in Riverside County. That’s why CalEITC4Me is working to increase participation in the EITC, to ensure that more of these dollars flow to the low-income working families who need them.
The people who earn the EITC are our fellow Californians. They work in areas like healthcare, education, agriculture, housekeeping, and food services. According to the California Budget and Policy Center, more than 9 out of 10 state EITC dollars last year went to families with children.
The EITC is a lifeline that helps parents pay for immediate needs such as rent, food, clothing, and transportation—but it provides lasting benefits for their kids. Studies have shown that children whose families receive a boost in income from the EITC are healthier and perform better in school for years down the line. Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” theory applies to education as greater financial security at home can allow a child to have the emotional energy to learn. These issues are not unique to Riverside and we are determined to use this model to engage other school districts throughout California.
It’s so important to ensure that the EITC reaches as many families as possible this year. In 2017, over 40,000 Riverside families were eligible. However, California’s legislature recently passed a significant expansion of the program, meaning that number could triple in 2018. Reaching three times as many families this coming year will require all of us to pitch in. So join us, and let’s work together to improve the lives of Riverside and all of California working families.
A survey conducted by the California Budget and Policy Center found that fewer than 1 in 5 people who were likely eligible for the Cal EITC had even heard of the credit. This is why it is imperative to visit CalEITC4Me.org to learn if you are eligible and find a free tax preparation site near you, and share this information with your family and friends.
Let’s get to work.