Low-income working families in Oregon missed out on over $124 million in tax refunds last year.

Because they didn’t file the paperwork.

We know kids do better when their families do better. But for a growing number of families, holding down a job is no longer a ticket out of poverty. In Oregon, the share of families who had at least one working parent and still fell below the poverty line has risen 27% in seven years, even as the economy has improved. Families who are poor despite steady work make up over 72% of all Oregon families living in poverty.

This is where the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) come in. These federal programs give low-income working families a much-needed financial boost, incentivizing employment in the process. In 2013, the federal EITC lifted about 9.4 million people across the country out of poverty, including 5 million children.

“Even in our current political climate, one thing Republicans and Democrats agree on is that people who work should be able to support their families,” said United Way President and CEO Keith Thomajan. “EITC and CTC are two of our country’s strongest tools to help working families get ahead.”

But a surprising number or families who qualify for the tax credits aren’t claiming them. Oregon ranks dead last in the country in EITC participation. In 2012, just 73% of families in Oregon who qualified for the credit actually claimed it, leaving $124 million on the table that would have helped over 106,000 working families make ends meet.

United Way directly funds efforts to increase EITC participation in our four-county region. Last year our nonprofit partners CASH Oregon, NAYA and Community Housing Resource Center helped nearly 10,000 families get more than $15 million in EITC and CTC refunds. That’s cash in their pockets for food, rent and other basic needs.

Research has shown that children in families who benefit from these tax credits are healthier, do better in school, are more likely to go to college and earn more as adults.

“It’s tough for kids to do well in school when they’re hungry or don’t have stable housing,” said Thomajan. “The domino effect starts early, leading to struggles in school that deepen over time and get in the way of a diploma and a good job later. The cost of these failures is huge for kids and real for our region.”

Tax day (April 18 this year) is right around the corner! Let’s pull out all the stops to make sure families in our region have the information they need to leverage these important tax credits.

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