Public Benefit Programs

Fact

According to Food & Nutrition Service 2012 data, 42.3 percent of SNAP (food stamp) recipients are in working families.

Many state and local government agencies that administer public benefits such as Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), SNAP (formerly called food stamps), or subsidized child care, have ongoing contact with families and individuals who work and also receive public benefits. Enlisting such agencies in tax credit outreach is an effective way to reach large numbers of eligible workers on a regular basis.

Organizations engaged in outreach activities aimed at boosting enrollment in specific benefit programs like Medicaid and CHIP are natural partners and can be encouraged to inform families about tax credits as well. Similarly, Tax Credit Outreach Campaigns can alert families to the opportunity to obtain other benefits that may be critical to the health and well-being of their families.

  • Work with state or county program administrators to arrange for information about tax credits for lower-wage workers to be included in regular mailings to families and individuals receiving public benefits. Include a flyer or envelope stuffer with benefit checks, WIC coupons, program renewal notices, waiting list information, rent notices in public housing, or other mailings.
  • Train eligibility workers to inform families seeking public benefits about the tax credits and free tax filing assistance. They can assure families that claiming the tax credits generally does not affect their eligibility for benefits such as SNAP, Medicaid, or subsidized housing.
  • Reach out to workers who previously earned too much to qualify for the EIC or the CTC and may now be eligible. They may have been laid off or had their work hours reduced. Connect with them through unemployment offices, job training programs, and government assistance programs.
  • Contact your local Workforce Investment Board, which is required to secure contracts to provide job readiness, job placement and post-employment services to TANF recipients entering the labor force. Caseworkers can ensure their clients know about the tax credits and how to claim them — an important step in making a successful transition into the workforce. Encourage local boards to require companies receiving employment services contracts to provide workers with tax credit information.
  • Include information about tax credits in electronic benefit screening programs. States and nonprofit groups have been developing electronic programs which screen families for benefits, including Medicaid, CHIP, LIHEAP (energy assistance) and WIC, and let them know they may qualify. Work with program designers to incorporate information about tax credits and free tax filing assistance. Benefit Finder, an online multi-benefit screener, can be used to screen families for various government benefits. Visit www.benefits.gov/benefits/benefit-finder. Another program, EarnBenefits, available in Georgia, Maryland, New York, and Tennessee, uses technology and counseling to help connect lower-income workers to benefits. Visit www.earnbenefits.org.
  • Connect with outreach workers who promote a variety of benefit programs. Provide them with tax credit information to share when they are signing families up for health coverage, food assistance or child care.  Also, invite them to participate in tax credit outreach events and to be on hand at tax assistance sites.
Tax Credit Outreach IN ACTION

Bronxworks is a human service organization and settlement house in New York that operates 29 offices in the Bronx. In addition to its homeless shelters and senior centers, Bronxworks offers seven one-stop offices that provide screening and enrollment to clients for public benefits, including EIC, CTC, SNAP (formerly called food stamps), health insurance, housing vouchers, and One Shot Deal, a one-time emergency grant for New York City residents.

At the seven offices, clients complete a basic application which staff uses along with online software available through the City of New York’s website to screen for public benefits. Staff helps eligible clients fill out the applications for public benefits or directs them to the appropriate location to submit the paperwork for programs that do not accept applications electronically. Clients are also referred to VITA sites for tax return filing.

To promote the public benefits screening and VITA sites, Bronxworks canvasses all housing developments in the Bronx, including “Section 8” and public housing communities. Volunteers from Bronxworks go door-to-door to inform residents about free tax filing and public benefit enrollment. Bronxworks disseminated more than 12,000 mailings that included educational materials about the EIC and VITA sites to low-income housing units between December 2013 and March 2014.

In 2014, Bronxworks’ seven offices screened an estimated 7,500 people for public benefit programs and enrolled 2,742 households into SNAP. More than 4,000 households were referred to VITA sites for free tax filing.

Contact: Lorenzo Barcelo, Bronxworks, (718) 993-8880, lbarcelo@bronxworks.org

Glad You Asked That!

Q: Many people work and also get cash assistance. Can they still claim the EIC or the CTC?

A: Yes. As long as they earn wages and meet the income and other eligibility requirements.

Q: Will getting the EIC or the CTC lower the amount of other public benefits? Could someone lose benefits altogether?

A: The EIC and the CTC are not counted as income for any program that receives federal funding. The EIC and the CTC are not counted as a resource (also called an asset) in determining eligibility for benefits for 12 months after the refund is received. Often, if the beneficiary has few or no other resources, saving part of a tax credit refund does not cause the person to exceed the resource limit for a benefit program. For more information, see Questions and Answers on Public Benefits online at www.eitcoutreach.org.