Cross Community & The Equity Center recently concluded a comprehensive investigation into the critical post-pandemic needs of the people they serve, particularly low-income residents and immigrants in Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village.
As the state delegate for District 39, I also represent these respondents, who are among the poorest in Montgomery County, with 87 percent earning less than $ 40,000 a year. A survey of this magnitude of poor immigrants in the county is unprecedented, garnering more than 1,300 responses.
The results generated concrete data that corroborates what many in this work know well from experience: Some government programs struggle to connect with these populations.
These communities are often difficult to reach due to language barriers, lack of access to technology, and the inability to navigate the complex systems required to access support. Another problem is the inherent mistrust of the sources responsible for providing information, as many of these people are non-national immigrants.
These new findings, however, will give policymakers – perhaps for the first time – a remarkable window into the world of those living on the fringes. As a result, we can create more effective strategies to connect very hard-to-reach populations with support to ensure post-pandemic economic growth that includes everyone in Montgomery County, not just those who can afford it.
The Income Tax Credit (EITC) is an important and timely example.
The EITC is widely recognized as one of the most effective national poverty reduction programs. Maryland is one of 28 states that have adopted its own version of the EITC for state filers.
In early 2021, Maryland became one of three states to extend EITC eligibility to those who file with an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN). This opens the door to once-inaccessible benefits for tens of thousands of previously ineligible low-income workers in Maryland.
I am proud to say that Montgomery County has seized on this powerful and positive legislation by now allowing low income households to double their EITC through the Income Supplement for Working Families Program (WFIS). This means that residents who responded to this survey will have a real chance to find a path to stability – that is, if these low-income workers know about and can access the EITC.
It is much more likely that barriers ranging from language to technology to general mistrust of government will not produce the results of EITC participation that we hope.
According to the Urban Institute, approximately 5 million potentially eligible taxpayers in the United States do not apply for EITC credit each year, resulting in approximately $ 7 billion in unclaimed benefits each year. This represents almost 20 percent of eligible filers who do not apply for the EITC.
Our challenge is to fully connect our hard-to-reach communities with these important resources.
To avoid missing the target on delivering the EITC and other anti-poverty benefits, such as the child tax credit, my colleagues and I need to tap into the expertise of organizations on the issue. land like Cross Community and The Equity Center.
Smart government requires partnership with groups that have established deep and trusting relationships with the individuals and families that our policies are intended to serve and are, as such, the most logical entities in determining the best way to reach them.
By empowering and investing in organizations already established in the community, we can ensure that the hardworking members of our county who live below the poverty line can fully benefit from these hard-earned services and resources.
Lesley Lopez lives in Germantown and is Maryland’s 39th State Delegatee District.
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