By Amanda Renteria
November 12, 2021 at 5:00 am ET
Last month, the White House and congressional leaders reached an agreement to extend the Child Tax Credit for one year and make permanent changes expanding it to families with low or no income in America. For millions of families, this tax credit is already serving as a lifeline to keep them out of poverty in challenging economic times — and this progress comes only months after the program started.
A one-year extension is good and should be celebrated. Long term, the CTC must be a permanent part of America’s social safety net, and Congress should authorize and invest sufficient funding to support implementation and outreach programs to encourage more people to sign up.
Going forward, policymakers will have to assess two fundamental questions: Is the CTC being implemented effectively, and is it having a meaningful impact on people’s lives? The answer to both, so far, is a resounding yes.
Within months of the CTC’s passage, the Internal Revenue Service launched multiple online tools to help with enrolling in and managing payments and began cutting checks in just four months. In October, over 36 million families with 61 million children received payments. More than 80 percent of eligible households have been reached, with more coming in each day.
The White House and our organization, Code for America, also partnered to introduce a new simplified filing tool to enroll families, GetCTC.org, at the beginning of September. This bilingual, mobile-friendly sign-up tool is now helping nearly 25,000 families successfully access the CTC each week, and, overall, is helping to deliver nearly $300 million to families in America that earn less than $25,000 per year.
Meanwhile, outreach partners are working every day to continue to increase enrollment.
At the federal level, dozens of agencies — led by the Treasury Department — are mobilizing families to file and pioneering new methods to engage nonfilers. The Social Security Administration in particular has aggressively invested in digital and radio advertising to SSDI and SSI recipients.
At the state level, Massachusetts is showing that even a single text message to SNAP recipients can drive significant sign-ups via GetCTC.
And cities are also rising to the occasion. Hartford, Conn., is using its public libraries to get the word out — and Philadelphia crunched administrative data to get phone numbers of likely nonfiler families who receive other city services and leveraged a volunteer group to call the list.
At the same time, to ensure we reach the most marginalized of the nonfilers, our organization launched an experimental new tax navigator program in coordination with the White House and the Treasury Department — through which trusted actors in government, at nonprofits and in the private sector provide hands-on outreach and enrollment assistance.
We have held hundreds of training sessions with different groups and sent them across the country to encourage nonfilers to sign up. And we are partnering with racial justice organizations like Community Change and UnidosUS to reach Black and Latino families, who are disproportionately likely to be eligible for the CTC but not receive it.
We recognize that more is necessary to build trust and close the participation gap through repeated, consistent and long-term engagement.
This begins with continued expansion of simplified filing options that the IRS and Treasury Department have made possible. We need a robust tool next year that accommodates all families without a filing obligation and pays them all the credits they deserve — including the Earned Income Tax Credit, which has long had its own participation gap.
Additionally, there need to be strategic investments in outreach mechanisms that are working at scale, including widespread messages from government agencies to their beneficiaries, hands-on chat and hotline assistance for families with questions and full-fledged navigator programs to conduct outreach and engagement to hard-to-reach communities.
And this also includes clear messaging from the IRS, sending nonfilers to easy-to-use online tools. Likewise, we need IRS notices and online tools that are accessible to and usable by the highest-need families.
Moments of crisis serve as moments of clarity about our shared values. When the pandemic hit, we saw just how many families had been living in precarious circumstances. We have a moral imperative to take care of the children who live in this country, and we have the resources to do it.
Let’s invest in the Child Tax Credit for the long term.
Amanda Renteria is the CEO of Code for America, which launched the GetCTC.org portal in September in collaboration with the White House and U.S. Department of the Treasury.
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