Why does United Way of Greater Cincinnati support EITC-related work?
United Way of Greater Cincinnati focuses on bold goals for income, education and health. There’s a clear link between the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and our mission to build financial stability for individuals and families across the region. The EITC is our nation’s largest anti-poverty tool. It reduces the tax burden on low-wage workers, supplements wages, reduces income inequality and helps families build assets. It even influences long-term outcomes for children in families receiving the credit. The Regional Volunteer Tax Assistance Collaborative is a tremendous way to help families struggling to make ends meet. Thousands of local families and individuals are more financially sound, thanks to this EITC initiative.
Tell us about your EITC-related work. What kinds of efforts are you focusing on?
United Way of Cincinnati takes a multi-strategy approach to improving financial stability for individuals and families across the 10-county, tri-state region (Ohio, North Kentucky, and Southeast Indiana). We invest in programs, initiatives and community change efforts, but we also run our own initiatives.
Our program work includes ensuring access to the EITC and other credits through free tax preparation services. We work closely with the AARP, Ohio Benefit Bank, and IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) through the Regional Volunteer Tax Assistance Collaborative, providing prep services and EITC outreach. We coordinate the coalition efforts, provide volunteer training and marketing for volunteers and tax filers, and we directly fund paid tax site coordinators in key areas. We are especially proud of our work to engage corporate groups as tax volunteers. This work has grown steadily since 2008; in 2015, $23.7 million in tax refunds were returned to local families.
We know that we will never have enough volunteers to meet all the need for tax services, so we are working with the Walmart Foundation and United Way Worldwide to promote a free online program that helps people file their own taxes. We are looking at a number of transitional steps to help people learn to file for themselves including offering tax labs staffed by a certified volunteer, as well as coaching self-file workshops for groups who are newly entering the workforce.
We also focus on financial empowerment in part through support of four Financial Opportunity Centers (FOCs), based on best practices from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Centers for Working Families. FOCs help families stabilize their finances and build assets through financial education and coaching, access to benefits, and job skills training. Each of the Centers also includes a VITA or facilitated self-file site.
What are some of your other strategies?
United Way of Cincinnati believes we have an important leadership role in working with business, community leaders and policymakers to help them understand how our entire community can benefit from key strategies to promote education, income and health. We work to directly inform public policy decisions, and we fund non-partisan advocacy organizations to pursue key policies at local, state and national levels. Traditionally, the organization’s advocacy has focused on state level early care and education. Building on a long history of working closely with coalition allies, we are also helping to build support for the renewal of the federal EITC and CTC and ensuring that the VITA grant program is made permanent. On the state level, there is work to be done to make Ohio’s state EITC refundable and to build support for a state-level EITC in Kentucky.
How has your EITC-related work evolved over the last few years?
United Way is seeking better integration between its goals of income, education and health, and this applies to our EITC work as well. We work with community partners to coordinate tax prep with Affordable Care Act (ACA) enrollment and outreach efforts. Our volunteers are trained on ACA requirements; last year we invited Navigators to some of the busier sites. Tax preparation is required for successful financial aid application (FAFSA) completion, so we have worked with community colleges in the past on this issue. This fall we are piloting partnerships with local high schools to improve college readiness by integrating free tax preparation with FAFSA completion services. We are excited to see how this model evolves.
In addition, we are bringing our EITC work into a two-generation framework. For the next two years we are undertaking a demonstration project funded by the Kellogg Foundation to address financial stability of mothers with children under age eight. We hope to help the moms get training and a job that pays a livable wage, to improve family financial capability, and to help children succeed in school. Then we will look at the impacts on outcomes for kids and their moms.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
We are always interested in learning best practices and strategies from our colleagues in other parts of the country. What tools can we share? Who are the helpful partners in your collaboratives? How do you integrate EITC work with a deeper level of financial stability services for the families you serve?