Increasing Participation in the Earned Income Tax Credit

The first Roundtable of the New Year highlighted the Earned Income Tax Credit, the most important federal income transfer program for low-income workers. Our featured speakers described how the Tax Credit works, who is eligible and how participation in this program could be improved. With Tax Day (April 18th this year!) right around the corner, the presentations were timely and each spoke to a slightly different aspect of the program:

John Wancheck, the Senior Advisor on EITC Policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, outlined the eligibility requirements for EITC, and noted that currently only about 82% of eligible families in Pennsylvania actually claim the tax credit, leaving thousands of dollars on the table. Mr. Wancheck recommended that outreach should be proactive and targeted towards those who are newly eligible, especially workers just entering the labor force, new parents and caregivers, divorced parents, and those who recently experienced a reduction in income. Mr. Wancheck cleared the common misconception that EITC refunds are counted as income. As EITC refunds are not income, the EITC will not change someone’s ability to receive income-based benefits.

 Alan Butkovitz, the Philadelphia City Controller, focused on how the EITC could be one tool to alleviate financial hardships for seniors. Senior citizens are living longer, the cost of living is increasing, and many elders rely on fixed-income programs, leaving less money to sustain them in later years. Mr. Butkovitz’s presentation touched on the overall state of retirement security in Philadelphia and potential avenues for Philadelphians to access retirement plans through city-sponsored plans and the U.S. Treasury’s myRA while applying for their EITC.

 Graham O’Neill from the Department of Revenue stressed the importance of EITC for Philadelphia residents and gave an update on ongoing efforts in the city to increase EITC participation. The YouEarnedItPhilly website provides a wealth of information, allowing visitors to learn more about the Tax Credit, calculate their eligibility and potential rebate, and find tax preparation sites convenient to their location. The website and materials are available in at least nine different languages. Those interested in more information can download this flyer or visit

During the Roundtable discussion, break-out groups brainstormed ideas to increase participation. Many groups noted the need for outreach strategies to be vetted and led by community members, to maximize outreach and build trust. Participants also suggested that notices about EITC could be placed in maternity wards, faith-based institutions and community centers. Employers could also distribute information about the EITC alongside employee paychecks.

At each Roundtable, we ask participants to share their experience and opinions so we can improve future events. Here’s what you thought of our January Roundtable:

And in your own words:

What is one thing you will take away from this discussion to enhance your work?

  • “Personal relationships are key. All year long discussion is super important”
  • “Statistics on individuals taking advantage of EITC”
  • “Connecting with other partners to increase knowledge of available resources”

How could future Roundtables be improved?

  • “Include community residents, not just community stakeholders
  • Set up a list serve for participants to share information”
  • “Extra time for roundtable discussion”

Thanks as always for your participation and feedback!

Materials from January 2017 Roundtable: