The Best Anti-Poverty Program You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
Rachel Aronson is an Emerson Hunger Fellow spending six months with United Way of King County. Her work is focused on increasing access to school breakfast as well as contributing to the Free Tax Campaign.
Picture the word taxes. What are the first things that pop into your head?
Most people associate taxes with frustration and stress. Others think of endless numbers, forms and paperwork. Depending on your political views, you may think of inefficient government taking your hard-earned money. Do you think of poverty? What about social justice?
Taxes are one of the systems that contribute to income inequality and the rising rates of poverty. People pay varied tax rates nationwide. In Washington, the 20% lowest earners in the state pay over six times more of their income in taxes than the top 1% of earners (on average that’s 16% of their income in taxes). That fact earns us the uneasy designation as the most regressive tax system in the country.
Taxes can prevent people from moving out of poverty, but they can also be one of the best paths to economic stability through a federal program known as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The EITC delivers tax refunds (an average of $2,000 per family) back into the pockets of the working class. Research shows impressive results:
- Children whose families receive the EITC are more likely to graduate from high school and go on to college.
- Infants whose mothers received EITC were more likely to be born at a healthy weight and experience fewer health problems as children.
- EITC is the single largest factor contributing to an increase in employment for single mothers.
EITC is so effective that it’s been called the most successful anti-poverty program in the country. Yet thousands and thousands of people who could be helped by this program fail to gain access to it. Confusing paperwork leads people to file incorrectly and miss out on some of the refund they’re eligible for. Predatory tax preparers mislead low and middle income families by charging high fees and automatically deducting a percentage of their refund. Many low income tax filers have never heard of the program and have no idea that they’re eligible for a refund.
United Way of King County’s Free Tax Preparation Campaign aims to change that. The Free Tax Prep Campaign has been providing free tax prep services for more than a decade and connects eligible people with EITC as well as other programs like Basic Food (aka Food Stamps) and utility assistance.
This program helps people like Mary, a single mother of two making $30,000 a year. She often has to choose between education, car repair and dental care because of her limited budget. This year though, because of a $3,000 tax refund secured by volunteers, Mary did not have to decide between these basic needs.
“I plan on using some to pay for my son’s college expenses and save any leftovers for emergency use, like unexpected car repairs or uncovered health expenses.“ she said.
Tax volunteers work one-on-one with clients to bring an average of $30,000 over the course of tax season back into their communities. In addition to helping their communities and meeting new people, tax volunteers gain professional skills and resources. Over 1,000 volunteers operate 21 different sites across King County, and this year we aim to file 20,000 returns this year.
Be part of the movement to end poverty. Spread the tax refund love: Volunteer with United Way’s Free Tax Campaign.