The pandemic forced city governments and community-based organizations to rethink how to deliver critical services to residents. Annual free tax preparation programs responded, adding remote services and playing a key role ensuring residents claim the tax refunds and credits they have earned.
On Friday, January 28, United Way of Massachusetts Bay and Merrimack Valley President and CEO Bob Giannino joined Mayor Michelle Wu and City of Boston leaders to mark the beginning of tax season and celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Boston Tax Help Coalition, one of the most successful volunteer income tax assistance programs in the country.
The Boston Tax Help Coalition (BTHC) is a partnership of nonprofits, businesses, and community organizations, including United Way, led by the City of Boston’s Office of Financial Empowerment. BTHC offers free tax preparation services for City residents who earn $60,000 per year or less. Over 400 volunteers are recruited, trained, and IRS certified annually through BTHC staff and training partners, and placed at one of the 30 free tax sites in targeted Boston neighborhoods.
In response to COVID-19, the BTHC and community partners have modified tax preparation services, providing them both in the community and remotely to ensure that all qualified residents can file safely while maximizing tax refunds and credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). Tax preparation assistance is available in English, Spanish, Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean Creole, Portuguese, French, Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Cantonese.
This year’s launch event was held to raise awareness of this service available to the community, particularly the recent shift to offer virtual tax preparation services amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Speakers included Mayor Michelle Wu, Bob Giannino, City of Boston Chief of Economic Opportunity Segun Idowu, City of Boston Director of Workforce Development Trinh Nguyen, Action for Boston Community Development President and CEO John Drew, and Dr. Megan Sandel from Boston Medical Center.
Mayor Wu, joining the event following her declaration of a snow emergency in Boston, provided some numbers to highlight the critical work of the BTHC. Since its founding in 2001, more than 9,000 credit reports have been reviewed, with 183,000 taxpayers served and $326 million in federal and state refunds, which she noted is 15 times Boston’s budget for snow and winter weather management each year!
Bob Giannino, noting that this work is very personal to him “as someone who grew up benefitting from public health policies aimed at lifting families out of experiencing poverty,” highlighted United Way’s partnership with the City of Boston as well as its work across the region. Last year, United Way partners throughout Greater Boston helped file over 2,000 tax returns, resulting in over $4M in refunds, with nearly $1M of that stemming from the EITC.
United Way established a strategic partnership with Boston’s Office of Financial Empowerment (OFE) to support our most vulnerable residents and households on a variety of financial opportunity initiatives, as individuals who are supported through tax preparation programs are often connected to other wealth building coaching services and financial opportunities. Among other initiatives, United Way provides flexible support to OFE’s Roxbury office, which offers tax service on evenings and weekends and offers the Financial Check-up, so that participants can check their credit report and set financial goals.
All speakers discussed the importance of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC). EITC is a refundable credit for low-wage workers, while the CTC is a credit for taxpayers for each child in the household under the age of 17. The CTC was recently expanded under the American Rescue Plan to a maximum of $3,600 per qualifying dependent.
Dr. Megan Sandel from Boston Medical Center stressed that programs like those provided through the BTHC support the physical and mental health of children and their families. “Research consistently shows that EITC and CTC not only help families make ends meet, but they also promote health,” said Sandel. “It’s why I call them Healthy Family Tax Credits… They’re linked to better birth outcomes, [better] mental health outcomes, and the overall health of mothers.”
The event’s final speaker drove this point home. Boston resident Lillian Graham, a mother of three, spoke about the tax credits she received last year, including the EITC and CTC, which helped her feed and clothe her children during a period of tremendous hardship. In 2021, the average EITC amount returned to BTHC taxpayers was $2,314. This money goes a long way with families, helping them to catch up on bills, fill gaps in their budget, and save for the future.
With the funds from her tax credits, Lillian was able to purchase a laptop and land a part-time job, which she is hopeful will lead to full-time employment. Lillian advocated for all of us to do what we can to advocate for these continued tax credits and raise awareness for those who do not know about these opportunities. According to the IRS, 20 percent of all eligible filers do not receive the credit, with approximately $10 million dollars of EITC left unclaimed in Boston.
Get assistance with your taxes and help us spread the word! Boston residents looking for more information about the Child Tax Credit, Earned Income Tax Credit and the services available through the Boston Tax Help Coalition, can visit bostontaxhelp.org or call 311.