In any other year, today would be Tax Day — a somewhat loved, somewhat hated date on the calendar that signifies ponying up to Uncle Sam, or potentially getting a bit of a kickback.
Due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, that date is now July 15, but that’s not stopping Golden State Opportunity from seizing the, um, opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of Californians find money owed to them.
With the CARES Act, the up to $1,200 per person and $500 per child is predicated on individuals having filed their taxes for 2018 or 2019 — something that at least 10 million low-income people have not done in the United States.
Why? Because there is little perceived incentive to file for those that make $12,200 or less.
But they are mistaken according to GSO President Amy Everitt.
“It became apparent that the only way to receive your stimulus check was to file your 2018 or 2019 taxes, so the urgency around the safe way to get your taxes done was increased,” Ms. Everitt told the News-Press.
But Ms. Everitt doesn’t want to stop at the stimulus check — there is more for low-income individuals and families up and down the state.
Enter the Million 4 A Billion campaign, where GSO will utilize its CalEITC4Me program in order to help low-income individuals and families file their taxes so that they are eligible for the stimulus check.
In addition, it will act as an opportunity to educate thousands on the Earned Income Tax Credit, which was built specifically to aid low-income households.
In some cases, low-income Californians are eligible for up to $8,000 through state and federal EITC refunds.
And, as Ms. Everitt explains it, these same families can file as far back as 2017, which means that some individuals could see between $15,000-$20,000 in earned refunds.
“I think people are not always aware that they qualify for things like the Earned Income Tax Credit. I think that when people are not making enough money, so they don’t have to file their taxes, they don’t,” said Ms. Everitt, who joined GSO just five months ago.
“We are still going to ask the state this year to fund a national research project so that we can actually find out from people who aren’t claiming it why they aren’t so we can create more effective and impactful program so that everyone who is eligible, we can address any concern they have and help them get their income tax because it is money they technically already earned.”
While she admits that setting a goal of a million Californians is bold — only 19,000 working families claimed $3.3 million in the EITC last year — Ms. Everitt believes that the GSO has a solid outreach plan in order to make major progress.
While they are only announcing the Million 4 A Billion campaign today, starting next week the GSO will leverage digital and mobile messaging outreach tactics, as well as mobilize a significant phone banking effort, looking to connect with 1 million Californians.
From there, dozens of professional tax preparers will aid individuals and families in navigating free online tax filing resources, all accessible from one’s home during the stay-at-home mandates.
In addition, Californians will be educated on how to sign up for CalFresh or apply for unemployment benefits.
Local politician and longtime resident Laura Capps is a GSO board member, and knows how important educating and aiding families during an economic crisis can be.
“Because too many of our Santa Barbara neighbors — too many of our kids — are living in poverty; we have the second highest rate in the state. For decades, economists know that the Earned Income Tax Credit is the best tool to help people afford their basic needs such as housing, food, and healthcare,” Ms. Capps said. “Yet it’s been greatly underutilized here in our county, far too many people don’t even know that every year they are leaving thousands of dollars on the table that they’ve earned. Especially now, we can, and must change that.”
While the Santa Barbara Unified School District has a robust solution to aid children in getting free and nutritious meals, the EITC allows for families to fill the gaps when that isn’t available.
“The EITC is a cash back program that low-income people have already earned by the hard work they did in 2019,” Ms. Capps said. “And it helps their children get the basics they need, with eight out of 10 dollars going to families with children. But to claim it, people need to file their taxes. And there is help for that.”
Ms. Everitt was focused on the long-term impact of the EITC.
“For families, the studies, which have been going on for 40, 45 years now, show that families that receive the credit have children who stay in school longer, do better in school, and go on to have jobs where they make more money than their parents did and that is one of the best ways to break intergenerational poverty,” Ms. Everitt said.
The Internal Revenue Service has stated that if one’s taxes aren’t filed, there is little they can do to locate individuals or families that qualify for the $1,200 stimulus check.
That’s something that Ms. Everitt knows is infinitely fixable — and, with the addition of the EITC, can be a huge aid to any local economy.
“Studies show that for every EITC dollar that somebody receives, it creates about $10 worth of local economic activity,” said Ms. Everitt, who attended both UC Santa Cruz and UC San Diego. “Regardless of what kind of recession we go into, more people accessing the Earned Income Tax Credit is going to make it a shorter recession because more people are going to be able to create economic activity.”
To learn more about the GSO, which is funded by state grants and private donations, visit goldenstateopportunity.org.