Getting child tax credit to lowest-income parents proves challenging

CNN — 

When President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats temporarily expanded the child tax credit this spring, they repeatedly touted that it would help cut child poverty nearly in half.

But that depended in part on the enhanced credit getting to the neediest of American families – those with incomes so low they don’t have to file taxes.

The Internal Revenue Service and community organizations across the nation spread out to try to reach these parents, blanketing them with information about the hundreds of dollars they could receive each month if they submitted a recent tax return or used special online portals created for non-filers by the November 15 deadline.

With the potentially final installment set to be delivered on Wednesday, the impact of these efforts remains uncertain. Some parents were connected with free tax preparation services to file their returns, while others were guided through the portals, according to several nonprofit groups interviewed.

Many low-income families, however, remained reluctant to take the steps necessary to receive the credit, even though it meant forgoing as much as $3,600 for each of their children for 2021, community organizers said. Parents voiced concerns about losing their public benefits, revealing their immigration status or being forced to pay back taxes, student loans or child support that they might owe, among other reasons.

“People that have been avoiding doing taxes for a reason still don’t want to do this,” said Jessica Brown, director of strategic initiatives at Community Development Advocates of Detroit. They are “worried that that was going to ignite a whole ‘nother bit of ‘you owe me, you owe me, you owe me’ from the government.”

It’s not known exactly how many children are in families that had to act to receive the monthly installments – estimates range from 3 million to 5 million kids. The vast majority of eligible parents are automatically getting the payments, which equaled half of their total credit.

The IRS said it is still determining how many parents used its online portal.

Another group, Code for America, worked with the White House and Treasury Department to launch a sign-up tool for non-filers in September. It was easier to use on mobile devices and was available in Spanish, unlike the IRS portal.

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