Philly pushes to connect thousands of families to expanded child benefits, stressing need to file taxes

day care children walking on street

Children from a day care walking together. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

As the political future of the expanded child tax credit has dimmed, Philadelphia is trying to reach at least 10,000 city families who officials believe have missed out on all payments.

The expanded child tax credit, which officials touted as a game-changer for Philadelphia’s long standing high poverty rate, has gone to 61 million American children in monthly installments since July 2021, according to the IRS.

“By focusing on harder to reach populations, we will advance racial equity in implementing the child tax credit, which is one of the most impactful anti-poverty programs in a generation,” said Mayor Jim Kenney during a press conference Tuesday.

Kenney also slammed the “51 senators [who] are standing in the way of extending the CTC for 2022,” nodding to Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia’s decision not to support the Build Back Better Act, joining the GOP caucus in opposing it. The act would have continued the enhanced credits for one more year.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

Under the expanded child tax credits, families received up to $3,000 a year for children six and older, and $3,600 for younger children, without any minimum income requirements. Half of that subsidy was split into monthly payments of $250-$300/month per child claimed, depending on age.

The monthly payments started in July and ended in December, just as coronavirus cases caused by the omicron variant surged. Families had reported using the money for every day expenses such as food and child care, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Some in our region said losing the monthly aid hurts.

To receive the other half of the credit for the first six months of 2021, parents must file a tax return.

That’s a barrier to some of the neediest families, said Jen Burdick, supervising attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. Many of her clients do not traditionally need to file taxes, for example because they receive disability or other government aid that is not taxed, but will now need to in order to claim the credit.

  • WHYY thanks our sponsors — become a WHYY sponsor

“We are very, very concerned a lot of people are going to miss out on the money,” she said.

Beth McConnell, with the Philadelphia Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, echoed that concern, estimating that around $31 million would be “left on the table” if the at least 10,000 families they estimate who are missing the money do not claim it.

In order to reach families that could be missing out, the City of Philadelphia announced $192,000 in grants to 17 community organizations with connections to specific marginalized communities, so that they can spread the word. The funds come from the city’s general budget, received through the American Rescue Plan Act.

“The families we’re trying to help need to trust somebody” to navigate a cumbersome, bureaucratic process, said John Chin, executive director of the Philadelphia Chinatown Development, one of the 17 grant recipients.

Those communities include non-English speakers, older women, and mothers who have been incarcerated.

Unlike last year, the federal government has not created a simplified website for people who otherwise do not need to file taxes to sign up, called a “non-filers portal.”

That means the City and its community partners will direct those eligible for the tax credits to free tax preparation sites. To find a free tax preparer near you, visit getyourrefund.org.

Democratic leaders in Washington D.C. have expressed a desire to revive the expanded tax credit program, potentially revising eligibility terms in hopes of winning over more votes in the Senate.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Together we can reach 100% of WHYY’s fiscal year goal