The online tool launched last fall but was not available during the tax filing season, to encourage people to file full returns, which would allow them to claim other tax credits.
Also key to fighting poverty: The relief package made the tax credit fully refundable, so that more low-income parents could take advantage of it. It had been only partially refundable — leaving more than 26 million children unable to get the full amount until 2021, because their families’ incomes were too low, according to the Treasury Department.
Most parents didn’t have to do anything to get the monthly infusions, since the Internal Revenue Service already had their 2020 or 2019 returns showing they had claimed the credit. More than 36 million households, containing more than 61 million children, received the monthly payments.
It’s not known exactly how many children are in families that had to act to get the child tax credit — estimates range from 3 million to 5 million kids.
The expanded credit helped reduce child poverty — an achievement that Biden and congressional Democrats have touted repeatedly.
Though the administration, Code for America and community organizations across the nation have been trying to spread the word about the credit since last spring, many of these very low-income families have remained reluctant to file 2021 tax returns or use the online portals that Code for America and the IRS operated last year.
This year, the effort will concentrate on working with federal, state and local agencies to reach out to the low-income Americans they serve — in hopes of convincing parents that it is not a scam and they won’t get into any trouble or lose benefits if they provide information to the IRS.
Text messages, emails and letters from these agencies have already prompted some families to file for the credit.
“We have focused a lot — with the encouragement of a lot of the groups and Code — to spur more outreach from state and local governments. They’re where people go for benefits and are trusted messengers,” Gene Sperling, the White House official responsible for managing coronavirus relief efforts, told CNN.
For instance, the Social Security Administration plans to send emails about the credit to the 27 million Americans who have signed up for Social Security accounts, Sperling said. The Biden administration is working with the Department of Interior on outreach to tribal nations and with the Department of Housing and Urban Development on partnering with local housing authorities.
Code for America is collaborating with state, county and local agencies that administer benefits such as food stamps. This proved successful in the 10 weeks its portal was open last year.
“What we found is if you send two to four of these messages, you are likely to drive a ton of traffic to the site,” Newville said. “This year, we’re doubling down on that outreach mechanism.”
It will also launch a friend and family referral option, hoping more parents will be interested if they see people they know receiving the tax credit.
However, simply alerting people to the enhanced credit has not proved to be enough to get them to file in many cases. The federal and Code for America outreach efforts also will direct very low-income Americans to the portal so they know where to submit their simplified returns.
The majority of users take 10 to 15 minutes to file their information, and the site offers a chat connection to trained staffers who can assist those who run into trouble, Newville said.