Tapping Federal and State Resources to Strengthen Local Families

February 28, 2014

By Julie Bosland

Local outreach campaigns can strengthen the financial security and well-being of a community's residents and bring significant additional resources to the local economy. To learn more, local officials should attend NLC University’s March 9th seminar, Strengthening Local Families and Cities: Connecting Residents to Federal and State Benefits at the Congressional City Conference.

Guided by Dennis Campa, associate director for policy reform and advocacy at the Annie E. Casey Foundation and former director of community initiatives for the City of San Antonio, seminar participants will learn how to connect working families to key benefits, including federal tax credits, health coverage and nutritional supports.

City leaders can reach struggling families and provide these connections in inexpensive ways through existing municipal touch-points, such as utility bills, public library programs and city events. Monica Fulton of the Family Resource Center in Garden City, Mich., will join Mr. Campa to share practical advice about effectively reaching families in smaller communities.

Earned Income Tax Credit

As the IRS tax filing deadline approaches, city leaders have the opportunity to ensure that federal dollars allocated through one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs – the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) – are reaching eligible families in their community. Without a concerted outreach effort, as many as one in four eligible families are likely to miss out on these needed resources because they are simply unaware of the program, do not know they qualify or struggle with the tax filing process.

The EITC is a refundable tax credit that provides a yearly boost to family finances for low- and moderate-income wage earners. Last year alone, more than 27 million workers received nearly $63 billion in EITC refunds in the 2012 tax year.  In addition, many states also have earned income credits.  These funds are critical to working families, while providing a welcome boost to local economies.

In an effort to reduce the number of families who miss out on this tax credit and the chance to attract untapped federal dollars into their local economies, municipal leaders can implement targeted outreach strategies and provide opportunities for free tax preparation services through Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites.

Health Insurance

All of the recent attention on the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has shed a light on the fact that millions of children and families - approximately 70 percent of the nation's uninsured children -are currently eligible for but not enrolled in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

Without affordable health insurance, children are more likely to experience preventable diseases and miss school regularly. Families may face lost wages as parents take time off to care for their children, and the opportunity for financial crises resulting from unaffordable medical bills increases.

When families miss out on public health insurance programs, cities often end up funding the health care costs for uninsured families through public hospitals, clinics and other safety net programs. In addition, it is much more expensive to treat illness in an emergency room – either because it has gotten acute or there is nowhere else for a family to go - than to provide regular care through routine check-ups, vaccinations and other preventive care.

To ensure that more children and families get the health coverage they need, cities are ramping up efforts to connect children and families to health insurance because doing so creates a healthier community and a more vibrant local economy.

Access to Healthy Food

Hunger and food insecurity can have devastating long-term effects on children and the communities in which they live. Students suffering from hunger are more likely to struggle in school and are at greater risk of being in poor health. 

Federal nutritional supports include the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, free and reduced-price school meals and funding for afterschool and summer meals. By taking full advantage of these programs, cities and schools throughout the country can help close nutrition gaps for millions of children from low-income families. 

By connecting families to the EITC, affordable health insurance or nutritional assistance, cities can ensure that federal and state resources intended for their residents aren’t left on the table, and help children and families in their city receive the support they need to thrive.

For more information about benefit outreach and other efforts to promote financial security for residents, contact Heidi Goldberg, Program Director for Early Childhood and Family Economic Success in NLC's Institute for Youth, Education and Families.