Code for America’s just-launched “Get Your Refund” Initiative shows what’s possible by helping millions access $10.5 billion in unclaimed Earned Income Tax Credits refunds
Code for America today launched a new blueprint for a human-centered safety net. The Blueprint provides a bold vision for transforming how government delivers public benefits in the digital age. It lays out principles and case studies that will serve as a model for interested public sector agencies.
According to The Pew Research Center, 55% of Americans have turned to at least one public benefits program at some point in their life for healthcare, food assistance, or economic support in times of need. When delivered effectively, social safety net programs play a significant role in reducing inequality and supporting the health and wellbeing of children, adults, seniors, and families.
“A human-centered social safety net guarantees the needs of families are put first,” said Lou Moore, Co-interim CEO & CTO of Code for America. “It ensures that when someone needs help, that help is easily accessible. It provides clarity when there is confusion. And, most of all, it means that when someone applies for benefits, they are met with relief rather than roadblocks. Combined, this ensures that people seeking assistance are treated with dignity and helps restore faith in our government.”
As part of the Blueprint, Code for America lays out 5 principles for government service delivery:
- Provide an equitable and positive experience both online and in person.
- Clients should be able to make it through the application process with minimal caseworker support.
- Clients should clearly understand the implications of all of the actions they have to take throughout the process.
- Build things that can change based on clients’ needs, as well as shifts in policy and budget.
- Each stage in the enrollment and eligibility process should be able to be completed in as few steps as possible.
The Blueprint, principles and case studies can be found here.
Get Your Refund — Earned Income Tax Credit
Meanwhile, Code for America recently launched a separate, but related initiative that helps millions of hard-working families in America claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the largest government benefit for low to moderate-income workers and their families.
The EITC helps keep millions of Americans out of poverty, yet Code For America research found that a significant portion of the people eligible for the EITC do not claim it because they are not aware that the program exists or do not know how to navigate the process to claim it on their tax return.
To address this challenge, Code for America is partnering with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a program of the IRS, for an upcoming pilot for the 2020 tax season. In partnering with four local VITA organizations (in California, Colorado, Arizona, and Georgia), Code for America is building a digital service that provides an easy way to get connected with VITA services from anywhere in the country.
“Through interviews with taxpayers, we found that providing free tax preparation support could dramatically close the EITC participation gap,” said Moore. “That’s why we’re partnering with the IRS VITA program to reduce the burden on taxpayers, alleviate the pain points, and increase access to the EITC. We’re so excited to embark on this journey in our continued mission to help people better access government services.”
Through this pilot, taxpayers will answer simple questions about their situation, securely upload their tax documents, and get connected to VITA to answer their questions. The VITA team will remotely prepare the tax return, speak with the taxpayer to review it, and file the return with taxpayer consent. For those that would prefer to visit a VITA location (if one exists near them), we are providing a mobile-friendly location search tool at www.GetYourRefund.org.
In 2018, the EITC delivered $63 billion to 25 million workers and families. Together, the EITC and Child Tax Credit lifted an estimated 9.4 million people out of poverty in 2018.
About Code for America
Code for America believes government must work for the people, and by the people, in the digital age, starting with the people who need it most. We build digital services that enhance government capabilities, and we help others do the same across all levels of government. We organize thousands of volunteers across nearly 80 chapters nationwide who improve government in their local communities. Our goal: a 21st-century government that effectively and equitably serves all Americans. Learn more at codeforamerica.org.