In 2015, California became the 26th state to establish a state EITC and in 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed into a law a major expansion of the state credit. The Golden State Opportunity Foundation has been at the forefront of California’s EITC advocacy and outreach efforts and currently leads a public-private partnership to ensure that every Californian knows about the credit and all who are eligible can claim it. We sat down recently with Joseph Sanberg, Founder, and Josh Fryday, President of the Golden State Opportunity Foundation to learn more about its statewide outreach campaign: CalEITC4Me.
Tell us more about CalEITC4Me and Golden State Opportunity’s role in this campaign.
CalEITC4Me is a statewide EITC outreach campaign administered and led by Golden State Opportunity Foundation, which conducts research, analysis, public information and education programs with the goal of creating economic opportunity for all Californians. The campaign is structured as a public-private partnership with the State of California and a broad, diverse coalition of local and statewide philanthropies, community organizations, unions, faith, civic, education, and workforce organizations and leaders.
The Foundation founded CalEITC4Me on the heels of an advocacy effort to establish the state credit, both to spread awareness of the then new state EITC as well as to increase use of the federal credit. When the state credit was implemented in 2016, we knew that promotion of the CalEITC was critical to its success and that public funding was not going to be sufficient to raise the state’s already low uptake rate. There was a need for an awareness campaign to ensure that the credit would wind up in the hands of those who worked hard to earn it.
Why is investing in CalEITC4Me essential to achieving the Foundation’s mission?
Everyone who works should live in full financial security. The reality is that many working families are living paycheck to paycheck. Many are working multiple jobs and still being forced to make choices between paying the rent and putting food on the table or living one health problem away from homelessness.
The EITC is a precise way to address the core problem of work not paying enough The federal EITC has a proven track record of making work pay and helping working families meet their basic needs. California’s state credit provides a huge opportunity to further help struggling working families in our state. California’s poverty rate is higher than the poverty rate of the U.S. as a whole. We have to harness all of our monetary resources and collective will to address the fact that so many of us live in poverty.
What are the outreach campaign elements and how does advocacy fit into the foundation’s mission and campaign plan?
The Foundation leads this project as a data-driven campaign, which focuses on smart targeting and clear messaging – working to reach communities across the state with accessible information. The multi-lingual website (CalEITC4Me.org) serves as a one-stop shop for EITC filers and partners, providing such resources as fact sheets, eligibility calculators and a tax prep finders. In addition to online tools, we work on the ground, community-by-community, and in coalition and partnership with local elected leaders and community partners.
We are constantly striving to come up with new and innovate ways to help working Californians understand and access the credit. For instance, this year we piloted an outreach project in the Inland Region that targeted tax filers via different channels of communication– social media, text messages, in-person communication, and radio ads. As a result of these efforts, we were able to increase uptake of the state credit in both Riverside and Bernardino counties.
Parallel to ensuring that every Californian who is eligible claims the EITC is our effort to make sure that the EITC is expanded to all who are working but can’t claim the credit. Our foundation was founded in advocating for the EITC, and today we continue to lead advocacy efforts to expand its reach. This past year, advocacy led to a critical expansion of CalEITC, raising the eligibility threshold and including self-reported income within eligibility criteria.
Embedded within our advocacy efforts is the fundamental engagement of working people within the process. We work to build authentic relationships in local communities and give low-income working families the opportunity to advocate for themselves.
As you think about your relationship with the state, what are some roles you take on from the perspective of private philanthropy that complement the role of the public sector, and has this collaboration changed over time?
The public-private partnership has been critical to our success. We have been tied together on this program in a substantial way. Together, we’ve been able to use the outreach architecture we created to disseminate resources to counties and cities across the state. The state also relies on us to continue to refresh and update the messaging and tools.
Through expansion, the state has created the opportunity for an additional one million families to claim the state credit. Now we have the Herculean task of reaching newly eligible families. Now is the time for the private sector to step up to make sure all eligible families are reached and able to claim the credit.
What are some early outcomes and lessons learned, and how can other grantmakers and communities learn from your efforts?
Over the past two years, CalEITC4Me has helped nearly 800,000 low-income California families receive $1 billion back into their pockets by claiming the state and federal EITC. The EITC is a critical policy solution to provide financial security to those in need. On a broader level, we know that we all have a role and responsibility in making sure that our state’s working families are able to meet their basic needs.
One takeaway from our work is that creating a coalition that is inclusive, broad, and powerful is essential. This work is much too big and too important for one strategy or one organization. We’ve formed strong relationship with state and local organizations and partnered with such organizations as La Raza, the California Primary Care Association, and with Equality California, ensuring that we connect with California’s low-income LGBTQ population. An organization like ours can play a vital role in convening coalitions to amplify our messages and reach targeted communities.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
We all have to act with a greater sense of urgency and greater expansiveness with our strategies. The challenges of financial stress are getting worse by the day. We have to be outraged and every tool needs to be on the table, including public policy.
We’d like to connect with other funders working in this space, especially those who work as conveners and organizers around the vital role of the private sector in addressing economic security.
Please follow our work @caleitc4me.