By Amy Everitt | April 15, 2020

In recent weeks, millions of Californians have watched our financial security crumble and our previous way of life change dramatically—if not become obsolete—due to COVID-19. In times like these, it’s hard to know where to turn for information, support, or even a lifeline.

One thing is for certain—millions of families up and down the state need cash now. And today, on what would’ve been Tax Day, there is help right at our fingertips.

While the federal stimulus package is an important first step, it won’t be enough to shore up families left reeling from lost jobs and lost income. After the largest one month unemployment spike in history, more must be done for those who have lost their jobs, livelihoods, and peace of mind.

We have a proven effective program already in place to put hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars directly in the pockets of low-income workers. And they can claim it without leaving their homes. I’m talking about the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs), and they are available. Right now.

While policymakers work to pass further legislation to protect our most vulnerable, many families can’t wait, and they don’t have to.

For many during this crisis, taxes may be the furthest thing from their minds, especially as the filing deadline was pushed back to July 15. But what they may not know is that they will need to file a tax return for 2018 or 2019 in order to receive their $1,200 stimulus check. They may also be unaware that they could get up to $8,000 in EITC refund cash when they file. Finally, they may be unaware that they can collect this money by filing for free online.

The EITC is a cash back tax credit that low-income workers receive as a refund from the government. Every year, 25 million people claim $63 billion dollars in EITC refunds, but an estimated 5 million more who are eligible don’t claim the EITC at all.

In 2015, California introduced a state EITC, the CalEITC, and it is now a $1 billion program. This year, the state added a $1,000 Young Child Tax Credit for working parents with a child under age 6. To qualify, workers just need to have a SSN, be over 18, and make less than $56,000 for the federal credit and $30,000 for the California credit.

Today, in an effort to ensure that every CalEITC dollar is refunded to low-income workers in their time of need Golden State Opportunity is announcing the ‘Million 4 a Billion’ campaign. This initiative is intended to ensure that the $1 billion allocated for CalEITC refunds goes back into the pockets of workers who desperately need cash in the face of layoffs, lost income, and general financial insecurity.

In the coming weeks, we will begin reaching out to one million low-income workers asking if they would like to arrange an appointment to file their taxes for free online with virtual help from an IRS-trained volunteer.

An ETIC refund alone won’t lead to economic security for Californians as we recover from the unprecedented disruption caused by COVID-19, but because it’s already available, it’s a common-sense component of our response.

As the President of Golden State Opportunity, I believe that we have a responsibility to use every tool in our arsenal to uplift those who may be struggling. While many organizations are rightly focusing on the immediate and urgent needs of safe housing, food and healthcare access, having cash is also indispensable to ensuring people’s well being.

Our ‘Million 4 a Billion campaign’ is one way to quickly get money to our friends and neighbors in need.

Amy Everitt is the President of Golden State Opportunity, a statewide nonprofit dedicated to ending poverty.