Orlando Health is partnering with Heart of Florida United Way to increase education and awareness of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) through Project SCORES – Supporting Children’s Outcomes and Restoring Economic Security.
Jeff Hayward, chief executive officer and president of Heart of Florida United Way, said, when he was young, his father’s death caused his stay-at-home mother to become the sole provider of the family and increased the stress of keeping up with the bills. Hayward and his family were forced to go on food stamps and often had their electricity shut off.
“The bill collectors would call, and [my mother] would yell, ‘Don’t answer that!’ because we just didn’t have the money to pay,” Hayward said. “The financial stress it puts on families is incredible, and children feel that.”
The EITC is a federal tax credit system that helps qualified families receive critical funds when filing their taxes to use in any way they need. The federal grant for Project SCORES is $449,000 per year, with the potential to receive the grant for three years, according to Orlando Health.
The Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser conducted a study that found children under the age of 18 who experience four or more adverse childhood experiences known as ACES, such as abuse, neglect, or other traumatic experiences, are at greater risks in regards to their health.
“Those with four or more ACES were at significantly higher odds for developing heart disease, COPD, stroke, alcoholism, depression, and other poor health outcomes,” said Lainie Fox Ackerman, Orlando Health’s assistant vice president of external affairs and community benefit. “The work we are doing right now, we aren’t going to necessarily know the results for years to come. But it’s really preventative to help keep children healthy as they grow into adults.”
Heart of Florida United Way will be educating those that use their tax services on the EITC by preparing volunteers through Internal Revenue Service (IRS) training as they have done in the past. Last year, 307 volunteers were certified by the IRS, Hayward said.
Part of the reason 15-20% of qualified residents fail to claim the EITC is due to a lack of awareness, according to estimates from the IRS. Trained volunteers will be able to help those EITC-qualified families understand how they can file to get this tax credit and receive assistance financially.
“A lot of folks do their taxes on their own, and they’re not aware of some of the credits they can take,” Hayward said. “These are tax credits. These are not tax deductions. These are dollars back in your pocket.”
Orlando Health has partnered with the University of Central Florida’s Kimberly Renk, an associate professor in the psychology department, to conduct assessments on the success of Project SCORES.
“We have already created a form for our community partners to submit monthly reports on how many connections they have made, who they connected with, and how they connected,” Ackerman said. “It’s quite a few metrics, so we can measure the success that we are having and where there is opportunity to improve.”
To qualify for the EITC, recipients must have earned income during 2020 and not exceeded the maximum income, which varies if filing taxes with/without children or if married and filing jointly. In some cases, those who qualify can be eligible to claim up to $20,000 by refiling tax returns for the past three years.
Another qualification for the ETIC, recipients’ income from 2020 must be between $15,820-$56,844. There are also more qualifying factors in between those income ranges, depending on children and marriages.
Those looking for help to understand if they qualify for the EITC can call 2-1-1 to be connected to qualified tax volunteers through Heart of Florida United Way or visit HFUW.org.