The government’s new online portal for America’s poorest families to claim the child tax credit proves too difficult to use and could hamper the Biden administration’s efforts to reduce child poverty in the states -United.
In a month’s time, the administration will begin distributing monthly checks to parents and guardians of children under the age of 17 as part of the US bailout, President Joe’s $ 2,000 billion COVID-19 relief program. Biden.
All families, regardless of income, are entitled to this money – an expanded child tax credit that will give families up to $ 300 per child each month from the IRS until December. The benefit remaining after December to reach a maximum of $ 3,600 per child per year will be returned to parents with their tax return next year.
While this money is automatically sent to families who file taxes, the parents who need financial help the most – those with incomes so low that they don’t need to file taxes – should use a separate online portal to register for the service.
But already, the government’s website is proving to be very inaccessible.
“We are concerned that the tool needs to be simpler, more direct and more user-friendly,” said Sergio Mata-Cisneros, policy analyst for the Christian anti-hunger organization Bread for the World, which has led actions community awareness campaign on the child tax credit. .
The website requires Americans to have an email address before entering personal information, is in English only, and only works on desktops or laptops. On a mobile phone, the website is essentially unusable, with text stretching off the screen.
“In order for it to reach the people we want to reach and to have the impact we want, it has to be in multiple languages,” said Mata-Cisneros. “We would like to see the email requirement eliminated. Make it compatible with mobile devices – you can’t use it on your phone – we’re really concerned about that. “
The online tool looks a lot like the government website the IRS used last year to distribute stimulus checks to this same population.
“Based on our assessment, it is virtually inaccessible to many underserved communities,” Jen Burdick, an attorney with Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, whose clients overwhelmingly experienced problems with the online portal last year. “Overall, that means most people can’t do it on their own.”
These problems ignore the technological divide between the very poor and everyone else, and they can ultimately prevent those most in need from receiving potentially life-saving cash benefits.
Those earning less than $ 30,000 are much more likely to have smartphones than desktops, according to 2019 Pew Research Center data. This divide is more pronounced for the very poor, who are even less likely to have a computer or Internet access at home, and who often depend on their phones to connect.
In 2019, almost half of zero-income households that should rely on such an online tool did not have a laptop or desktop at home, according to the American Community Survey of the Census Bureau.
And, for those with an email address and computer access, the tool itself requires a level of tax knowledge that non-filers often lack, Burdick said. The platform doesn’t simplify information requests like TurboTax would, rather it looks like a government tax return document.
The Biden administration focused on the child tax credit as a poverty reduction measure and touted the online tool as an easy-to-use portal.
“At the Treasury, our goal is to make sure that every American can get the relief funding they need as easily as possible,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement this week when the IRS launched the online tool.
The IRS says it’s working on improving the website, but pointed out that the tool was built with two private partners: Intuit, the company behind TurboTax, and the Free File Alliance.
“In the wake of an extended reporting season, the IRS worked with Intuit and the Free File Alliance to deliver the new registration tool for non-filers as quickly as possible, giving access to people who don’t normally file. no tax filing until Monthly advance child tax payments begin in July, ”an IRS spokesperson told HuffPost in a statement, responding to reports of accessibility issues.
“Work on this topic has been sped up to make it available as quickly as possible by taking advantage of pre-existing programming. However, we will work with our partner groups to ensure wide access to this important new tool. “
Meanwhile, Intuit was quick to blame the IRS for the usability issues.
Responding to a user who complained via Twitter that he could not use the tool on his smartphone, an Intuit QuickBooks IT support the team employee replied that the “website was created by the IRS”.
More than a third of children living in poverty in the United States live in households that do not declare taxes, and more than half of those who live in what is considered severe poverty (50% below poverty line) do not declare taxes. households, according to the People’s Policy Project, a left-wing think tank.
Biden, Democratic lawmakers and administration officials have repeatedly said the policy will halve child poverty in the United States. But the government’s reach will be limited if it cannot improve the usability of its online portal.
Lawmakers are well aware of these problems. Representative Suzan DelBene (D-Wash.) Was able to “test” the portal ahead of time and told the IRS of several concerns that she hopes will be resolved before the checks are sent out, her carrier said. lyrics by Nick Martin.
“I’m still worried,” Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said of the government’s ability to reach the very poor. “[The IRS] wants to do it, clearly they are trying to do it. It’s a big job. We help them, we watch them, we cajole them if necessary. Whatever the cost.
The online portal is just one way the IRS tries to reach out to non-filers. It also uses data from the Social Security Administration, the Veterans Benefits Administration, and the Railroad Retirement Board to automatically enroll other eligible Americans who are not traditional tax filers.
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