On Wednesday, August 18, the John Burton Advocates for Youth (JBAY) webinar, Learn How Santa Clara County Got Over $135K to 45 Foster Youth in Need of Income During the Pandemic, shared the results of a pilot project with Santa Clara County Social Services Agency (SSA) and other local partners to increase foster youth utilization of California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC).
In the midst of the pandemic, the Santa Clara County SSA, JBAY, and other partners collaborated to create a pilot to assist in filing taxes for current and former youth in foster care, between the age of 16-24 years old, to receive state and federal tax credit and stimulus payments. Before these efforts were enacted, youth attempting to navigate through the transitions of adulthood after foster care with no financial or emotional support of family members often resulted in homelessness and poverty. At an average of 54 percent of youth at the age of 21 working ten or more hours per week, 70.4 percent are living below the poverty line, and 68 percent of youth in foster care reporting that the Covid-19 pandemic directly impacted their employment, access to tax filing resources and pandemic relief payments are crucial to the financial well-being of transitional youth in foster care.
To combat these odds, Santa Clara County SSA and JABY created the pilot to ensure that five key areas are supported when addressing tax filing for transition-age youth in foster care. These key areas include developing community capacity of assistance, institutionalize policy and practice, increase knowledge and expertise of caseworkers and providers, increase the total annual income of transition-age youth by effectively support tax filing, and gain knowledge to improve the local, state better, and federal policy when supporting transition-age youth in foster care receive cashback refunds. To achieve the most effective support for these youth, this pilot and its partners greatly emphasized implementing activities that relied on community support.
The first step was establishing a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site at Santa Clara County’s youth center, known as “the Hub.” Having recruited over twenty individuals with twelve completing training and certifications to assist in the operation, volunteers met the requirements of the IRS to ensure quality tax returns for current and former youth in foster care with specialized tax filing assistance. From March to May of 2021, five in-person tax filing events were held on Saturdays, and within the three months, volunteers provided tax filing assistance for both individuals and families earning less than $57,000 in 2020. In addition to these events, virtual and drop-off appointments were made available for those that were unable to attend.
Through the support of Santa Clara County SSA case managers, nonprofit partners, VITA sites, and those that supported the effort of this pilot, 45 youth completed filing through the site. As a result, over $135,000 was received in state and federal tax refunds with a 100 percent positive increase in income due to filing through the pilot program. From the pilot results, it is apparent that the strategy of tax filing was incredibly effective when directly addressing the much-needed income of current and former youth in foster care. With the success of this pilot supported many transition-age youth in foster care needing assistance, JBAY will be partnering with five counties to create similar pilots that will be improved upon after the revisions of this project to serve transition-age youth in foster care better.