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In 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act temporarily expanded the Child Tax Credit (CTC). It increased the credit to $3,000 per child ($3,600 for children under age 6), expanded access to very low-income households, raised the age of eligible children to 17, and created the option for families to receive half of the credit via advance monthly payments. Beginning in July, parents of children up to the age of 17 started receiving a larger benefit through monthly payments. And for the first time, non-filers became eligible. Families that filed income taxes or signed up for stimulus payments were enrolled in the program automatically. By December 2021, the parents of more than 61 million children had received almost $93 billion in benefits. However, the U.S. Treasury estimated 2.3 million children of non-filing parents did not access the new support. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that parents of 1.6 million newborns may also be missing out on the expanded tax credit. However, these families will have the opportunity to access the expanded credit as a lump sum payment during the 2021 tax filing season. Similarly, parents who received the first half of the credit via advance monthly payments will also need to file a 2021 tax return to claim the remainder.

On December 10, 2021, the Center for Intergovernmental Partnerships (Center) at the National Academy of Public Administration (Academy) held its inaugural convening on the CTC to discuss lessons learned and strategies for ensuring all eligible households receive the credit this spring.  Rachel Mackey of the National Association of Counties (NACo) and Jessica Maneely of the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) provided invaluable assistance in bringing together a panel of state, local, nonprofit, and philanthropic organizations working in this area. Luke McGowan of the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs provided opening remarks, emphasizing the role of collaboration across levels of government and sectors to boost enrollment. A recording of the session is available here.

Like many provisions of the American Rescue Plan, the expanded CTC’s implementation occurred quickly. Panelists emphasized the value of existing relationships and technical expertise in developing their outreach and enrollment efforts. Several important lessons emerged.

Established service providers are critical to increasing enrollment in the CTC. Credibility with the target populations can position trusted messengers, such as community organizations, to spread the program. For example, BakerRipley (Harris County, Texas) has a significant and longstanding presence in the Houston area. As a Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA ) program operator, they have experience helping people submit financial and other information to the IRS, such as tax returns and applications for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN). The CTC requires ITINs for individuals ineligible for a social security number. A trusted relationship with an existing client base is also valuable as signing up requires sharing personal and financial information. All panelists noted the value of the VITA program as a dependable provider of tax services. Those VITA providers support disadvantaged communities and fight against misinformation government programs often experience. 

Financial support expands service providers’ capacity to conduct outreach. The State of Colorado, Harris County, and the San Diego Foundation all invested in the capacity of service providers to identify and enroll potentially eligible families. As a community foundation, the San Diego Foundation has already made $64 million in grants to more than 250 nonprofit partners working at the front lines to address the pandemic; expanding their portfolio to include CTC enrollment was a logical step for them.

Connecting families to the CTC supports public health outcomes. The Colorado Maternal and Child Health Program in the Department of Public Health and Environment is actively involved in outreach as part of a strategy to address the social determinants of health, recognizing that the experience of poverty is one of the primary contributors to poor health outcomes.

Meeting people where they are is instrumental for connecting with hard-to-reach populations. Colorado has worked with its network of service providers, including school districts, food pantries, health clinics, home visiting programs, and similar organizations to identify and enroll eligible parents. In Harris County, BakerRipley has taken this principle further by setting up a mobile operation. Although Baker Ripley has five tax assistance and financial service centers in Houston, Harris County covers a large geographic area, making access a challenge. “Good to Go” is a mobile community center that makes scheduled visits to libraries and other public places. BakerRipley has also expanded access by distributing flyers and conducting social media campaigns in multiple languages.

Panelists agreed that simplifying the sign-up process was a step in the right direction. In September 2021, in collaboration with the Treasury Department and the White House, Code for America launched GetCTC.org, a user-friendly portal for CTC enrollment. The website still requires the same amount of information, but the process is more straightforward and efficient, providing step-by-step instructions for a more manageable sign-up process.

For information about the impact of the expanded CTC, see also reports from the Urban Institute and the Congressional Research Service.

The Center team would like to thank the four panelists who participated in the session. They were Isabel Dickson (Economic Mobility Specialist, Colorado Maternal and Child Health Program in the Department of Public Health and Environment), Gabriela Lastres (Senior Policy Advisor, Harris County, TX), Cristina Cave (Community Relations Senior Manager, Baker Ripley of Harris County in Houston, TX), and Katie Rast (Director of Community Impact, the San Diego Foundation in San Diego, CA).