Twitter: vakids

Author Archives: Kaytee Wisley

  1. Tax Credits Could Fall Short: Non-Filers Experience Barriers When Filing 

    Leave a Comment

    The American Rescue Plan Act, passed in March 2021, was the third federal relief package for the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to direct aid to states and municipalities, the act included temporary changes to the tax code to provide assistance to low-income families and workers such as expansions to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). 

    • The EITC was expanded to include childless workers, ages 19-24, as well as former foster care children and youth experiencing homelessness at age 18. The maximum credits were also increased.  
    • The CTC was expanded from $2,000 to $3,600 for dependents under six and $3,000 for dependents 6-17. It was also made fully refundable and includes advance monthly payments of the credit from July to December 2021.  

    The expanded CTC is projected to reach just under 1.6 million children in Virginia and elevate 249,000 children above or closer to the poverty line according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. However, the lowest income families may have difficulty receiving the credit if they have not filed taxes within the last two years. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 4 million or more children are not automatically receiving the credit.

    Barriers to Filing for Non-Filers 

    An analysis by Code for America reveals the barriers that exist for non-filers when using the free online tax prep tool, GetYourRefund.org. This online tool was created by Code for America in partnership with the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to provide digital assistance from VITA volunteers for free and trustworthy tax prep assistance to families making less than $66,000. This analysis is based on the experiences of over 800,000 clients that used GetYourRefund.org.

    Code for America found that most non-filers using GetYourRefund.org opted to use a shortened form to claim their stimulus checks, despite many being eligible for larger returns if they chose to file a full tax return for 2020. Of the 10 percent that opted to file a full return, less than 1 percent were successful in filing the full return and claiming all the benefits they were eligible for.  

    Despite efforts to make GetYourRefund.org widely accessible for low-income filers, there are still large barriers for non-filers. Identity verification is the largest barrier, typically because they lack access to a phone that can receive text messages or they lack a credit history. Inclusive identity verification processes are necessary to simplify the filing process. 

    Screenshot of GetYourRefund.org

    This screenshot from GetYourRefund.org shows their warning about capacity for tax returns now.

    An article by Vox also cites that the current IRS portals for the Child Tax Credit is only available in English, making it difficult for non-English speakers to navigate the portal.  

    Other barriers that exist for non-filers are: 

    • Lacking access to necessary documents to file 
    • Technology 
    • Lack of trust  
    • Disabilities 
    • Awareness of eligibility for the credit 

    Multi-pronged efforts to help non-filers must be used in order to overcome the barriers to filing. In order to increase outreach for families that may not realize they are eligible for the credit; state SNAP agencies can create targeted outreach campaigns to the lower-income families that they serve. Code for America found that outreach partnerships with SNAP agencies made families 3.5 times more likely to use GetYourRefund.org.  

    Community-based navigators and community organizations can help inform people of their eligibility for different tax credits and help them locate trustworthy free tax prep services. Code for America found that the use of navigators with the GetYourRefund.org system increased the rates of successful filing to 60%, as compared to 32% without assistance. Community navigators can help increase trust in these free tax prep assistance resources and can simplify the in-person VITA assistance by ensuring families have all of their documentation prior to going to file their return.

    Even with additional assistance from community navigators, VITA will likely struggle to serve the increased demand as it is likely more non-filers will want to file a return than usual.  

    The IRS has created a non-filers tool that allows people who do not typically file input their information to become eligible for advance payments of the CTC. They will still need to file a 2021 tax return in order to claim the other half of their credit. This will likely increase the demand for free tax prep services as those who typically do not file attempt to navigate the return process to claim the credits they are entitled to.  

    The General Assembly convened for a special session Monday, August 2nd to determine use of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act. The current proposed Special Session budget does include funding for consulting services to determine the cost and need for translation and interpretation services. Funding for these services would be considered for inclusion in the 2022-2024 budget. 

    The General Assembly and state officials can provide additional resources and funding to ensure that these tax credits have the largest impact on low-income families and workers.  

    • Provide resources to tax preparation organizations to ensure they can support increased demand from those who typically do not file.  
    • Support community-based navigators and organizations that can assist families to ensure they understand what tax credits they are eligible for and what information they need to apply.  
    • Direct state agencies to provide outreach to the families they serve to increase awareness of the credit. 

    Additionally, Congress should make the expansions to the CTC and EITC permanent to see a lasting impact on economic stability for families and low-income workers.

    Sign up to receive policy updates from Voices.

  2. LGBTQ+ Youth and Policy Change: Celebrating Progress and More Work to Do

    Leave a Comment

    As Pride Month is ending soon, we want to bring attention to policies that promote equality for LGBTQ+ youth.  According to the Human Rights Campaign’s State Equity Index, a scorecard ranking states on different aspects of LGBTQ+ policy, Virginia scored in the second highest category “Solidifying Equity.” This is a jump from the lowest category of “High Priority to Achieve Basic Equity,meaning that the state has done substantial work to prioritize equality in the most recent legislative sessions. Virginia is the first state to ever jump two categories in one year. We want to acknowledge the hard work of advocates and lawmakers that have pushed Virginia to make so much progress towards equality over the last few years particularly Equality Virginia and the ACLU-VA. 

    The Human Rights Campaign state scorecard divides the policies into six categories, including youth policies. Virginia has done a significant amount of work in ensuring that there are comprehensive anti-bullying laws in schools that protect LGBTQ+ youth from bullying and harassment. These policies include protections against all forms of harassment and bullying, including cyberbullying. It also requires the Virginia Department of Education to present a model policy for school boards to develop local plans to prevent bullying. The model aims to create a culture of respect through social-emotional learning practices to reduce and prevent bullying as well as provide protections for LGBTQ+ students. 

    Virginia was the first state in the South to pass a law that protects LGBTQ+ people from discrimination. In addition, Virginia was the first Southern state to ban conversion therapy in 2020, which is a huge step forward in creating affirming policy for LGBTQ+ youth. Conversion therapy, also referred to as reparative therapy, is a pseudo-scientific process that claims to be able to change an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. In reality, this practice is incredibly harmful and can lead to depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and even suicide among LGBTQ+ youth that become victims of the abusive treatment.  

    VA is Leading the Way in the South but There’s More Work to Do for Youth 

    While the HRC state scorecard does celebrate Virginia’s progress, it also highlights important areas where policy is lacking to protect LGBTQ+ youth.  

    Since Virginia does not require inclusive sexual education in the sexual education curriculum, LGBTQ+ youth do not see their own relationships represented in their learning. According to the GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey, when the curriculum does not reflect LGBTQ+ experiences and identities, LGBTQ+ students feel less safe at school and are more likely to face harassment from their peers on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. 

    LGBTQ+ youth are 120% more likely to experience homelessness than their peers. African American and Native American youth are disproportionately represented among LGBTQ+ homeless youth. As a result of discrimination and fear of harassment, LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to spend time on the streets rather than in a shelter.  

    LGBTQ+ youth are also disproportionately overrepresented in our juvenile justice system, making up 7-9% of all youth, but 20% of all youth in juvenile justice facilities. Of the LGBTQ+ youth in the juvenile justice system, 85% of them are youth of color. While in these facilities, these youth can suffer from inappropriate placement based on their assigned gender at birth rather than their gender identity. They may also be subject to harassment by their peers and they may lack supportive services. LGBTQ+ youth are also at increased risk for being placed in solitary confinement or segregated units. 

    It is also important to acknowledge the unique difficulties faced by LGBTQ+ youth of color and transgender youth and gender non-conforming youth. In the GLSEN 2019 National School Climate Survey, 77% of transgender students and 70% of gender non-conforming students surveyed experienced anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination at school which are much higher than the rates experienced by cisgender LGBTQ+ youth. In the same report, LGBTQ+ youth of color experience high rates of discrimination on the basis of their sexual orientation, gender expression, gender identity, and race. It is important to be cognizant of the increased hardships of LGBTQ+ youth of color and transgender or gender non-conforming youth and to prioritize creating an inclusive environment for them.  

    Though Virginia has made notable progress, there are still key policies that we believe should be passed to support the unique needs of LGBTQ+ youth. Overall, the most important way we can support LGBTQ+ youth is by creating inclusive and affirming spaces where they feel comfortable being themselves and include policies that help create those spaces.  

    1. Integrating LGBTQ+ inclusive sexual education into existing curriculum: LGBTQ+ youth deserve to feel represented in their curriculum and the existing curriculum should be updated to include information specific to LGBTQ+ relationships to ensure that they can pursue happy and healthy relationships.  
    1. Laws to address homelessness among LGBTQ+ youth: It is important that LGBTQ+ youth who are experiencing homelessness have access to inclusive and affirming spaces. This would include non-discrimination policies for service and shelter providers so that they cannot deny access to services on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity, or gender expression. Other policies to address youth homelessness include access to transitional housing and access to emergency shelters.  
    1. LGBTQ+ inclusive juvenile justice policies: LGBTQ+ youth who are in the juvenile justice system deserve to be free from harassment or fear of violence for being who they are. To ensure inclusive and safe spaces in juvenile justice facilities, there should be a specific non-discrimination policy for these facilities that includes sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression. In addition to a non-discrimination policy, staff should be trained and required to maintain an inclusive and safe environment for LGBTQ+ youth. Transgender youth should also be placed appropriately based on their gender identity rather than their assigned gender at birth.  

    Virginia has continuously served as a trailblazer for other Southern states to follow and the state should continue to prioritize equality, particularly for LGBTQ+ youth. To meet their needs, the Virginia legislature should consider these policies to ensure the path toward justice for all LGBTQ+ youth. All LGBTQ+ youth deserve to be loved and supported, safe in their homes, schools, and communities, and to be treated with dignity and respect. Happy Pride Month!

  3. Introduction to the American Rescue Plan Act

    Leave a Comment

    The American Rescue Plan Act that passed in March 2021 is the third federal relief package and totals $1.9 trillion. It includes a wide range of benefits to create a path to recovery from the economic and health impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. The act is the most recent federal relief package and is one part of President Biden’s Build Back Better plan, which includes the American Families Plan and American Jobs Plan. It comes one year after the initial relief package of $2.2 trillion allocated through the CARES Act. The new plan extends some provisions from the previous relief packages, provides direct aid to states and localities and creates changes to tax policy.

    Below is a preview of the benefits available to support families now as well as those coming up that individuals should be aware of:

    Broadband

    • Emergency Broadband Benefit: The EBB is available for low-income families to receive monthly discounts on their broadband service through participating providers.  

    Food Assistance

    • P-EBT: The Pandemic EBT program provides assistance to children who qualify for free or reduced lunch who are attending school in a remote or hybrid model.  
    • SNAP: SNAP benefits have been increased by 15% through September 20, 2021. 
    • WIC: WIC Cash Value Benefit has been increased to $35 per month temporarily. 
    • Free school meals: All students are eligible for free school meals at participating locations.  

    Health Care

    • Increased prenatal care for undocumented mothers: Undocumented women are now eligible for comprehensive prenatal care and coverage for 60 days postpartum.  
    • Starting April 1, 2021, Green Card holders who have lived in the United States for at least five years no longer have to provide proof of work history to be eligible for Medicaid.  

    Foster Care

    • People who were formerly in foster care between ages 18-26 could be eligible for direct cash assistance as well as housing and educational assistance through the Virginia Department of Social Services. 
    • Youth who have experienced homelessness or foster care are also temporarily eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and can begin claiming it at age 18, even if they are full-time students.  

    Housing

    • Rental Assistance: Rental assistance is available through the Department of Housing and Community Development. 

    Tax Credits/Economic Supports

    • Stimulus checks: There have been three direct economic impact payments, also referred to as stimulus checks. The most recent round provided direct payments of $1,400 and eligible people who have not received their checks may be able to claim them when filing their 2020 taxes.
    • Expanded EITC: The Earned Income Tax Credit was expanded to include childless workers age 19 and older. 
    • Improved Child Tax Credit: The Child Tax Credit has been increased and made fully refundable. Additionally, families can expect monthly allowances starting in mid-July till the end of the year for half of their expected credit. They will receive the remainder when they file their 2021 tax return.
    • Improved Child Care and Development Credit: The Child Care and Development credit has also been increased, made fully refundable and can cover up to half of child care expenses for children under 13.  

    Stay tuned for more information on these benefits, including how to apply and resources to help people file their taxes!  

    Subscribe to receive policy updates and news.