Colorado refugee group says child tax credit checks bring confusion

Refugees in Colorado have struggled to obtain federal child tax credit payments this summer, while others have been confused by the checks they have received, according to a local resettlement organization.

Sarah Hanselin, a casework supervisor at the International Rescue Committee in Denver, said the payments can be perplexing for recipients who don’t speak English or Spanish — the languages that government notices tend to use. Her clients, who are far more likely to speak Swahili, Somali or Arabic, have asked whether the money must be paid back and if it will arrive more than once.

“There’s just a ton of confusion within these communities about whether or not they are eligible and sometimes it takes a long time for that money to be received by our clients,” she said.

Government agencies at both the state and federal level say they are aware of language barriers to child tax credits and other government aid, such as stimulus payments.

On July 15, the Internal Revenue Service mailed and deposited payments to most low-income and middle-class parents in the U.S. The $300 checks for young children and $250 for kids ages 6-17 are advanced child tax credit payments. They will arrive monthly through December.

For parents who filed tax returns in 2019 or 2020, they arrive in a bank account or mailbox automatically. But those who didn’t file — because they weren’t in the country yet, for example, or made very little money — must navigate the IRS’ website and register there or miss out.

“An ongoing issue”

It’s unclear how widespread language barriers are within Colorado’s refugee communities. Several resettlement groups said they haven’t heard of child tax credit issues among their clients. Neither has the office of U.S. Rep. Jason Crow, who represents Aurora’s refugee communities, nor has Aurora’s Office of International and Immigrant Affairs, a city government agency.

“I’m not sure if there has just been more accessible information provided to refugee families in Colorado or what,” said Ron Buzard, director of the African Community Center in Denver, “but the families we’re working with are aware of why they’re receiving the payments and are looking forward to them.”

That isn’t always the case beyond Colorado’s borders. In southwest Kansas, where Somali and Congolese refugees work in meatpacking plants, some residents thought the payments were a scam or worried about how they would repay them, Kansas News Service reported.

In central Iowa, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants is finding confusion among Congolese and Burmese refugees about why the parents of 17-year-olds are eligible but not people with older teenagers, according to Kerri True-Funk, who runs the office in Des Moines.

“We’ve seen a lot of questions around all of the different stimulus payments and pandemic payments that have come out. This is something we’ve been constantly trying to keep ahead of the curve on,” True-Funk said, calling it “an ongoing issue.”

Government officials have acknowledged the IRS’ portal for registering people who don’t file taxes is flawed. “The status quo isn’t working for those not signed up. We need to do this better,” Gene Sperling, the White House’s American Rescue Plan coordinator, tweeted July 28.

Colorado has the third-lowest rate of residents in the U.S. who are signed up for the earned income tax credit, which is similar to the child tax credit but benefits non-parents as well, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue. Data isn’t available yet on the child tax credit.

“People don’t access benefits for many reasons,” said Meghan Tanis, a spokeswoman for the Colorado Department of Revenue, “including complexity of the application process, lack of awareness of eligibility and inherent cultural barriers for those who are non-English speaking. Many families are now eligible for a child tax credit refund but aren’t aware of this change.”

Another barrier, according to Hanselin, is a deficit of bank accounts among her clients. One refugee who didn’t have a bank account but was eligible for stimulus payments throughout 2020 and desperately needed them received the checks in a single lump sum this year, Hanselin said. Caseworkers had to open a bank account so the person could cash it.

Translations and taxes

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is answering questions from refugees and immigrants who don’t trust the IRS and connecting them to tax-filing services. The Colorado Department of Revenue has enabled Google Translate on its website, making it available in 108 languages. (The IRS website is available in 21.)

“We are truly focused on meeting people where they are and eliminating access barriers for all Coloradans,” said Mark Ferrandino, executive director of the state revenue department.

CDPHE said that the parents of more than 37,000 eligible children in the state are at risk of not receiving the child payments because they didn’t file taxes.

But there have been some successes. The IRS transferred about $245 million in child tax credits to the parents of 992,000 Colorado children in July. In Denver, the parents of 135,000 kids benefited — 80% of parents in the city, according to Congress.

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet, an architect of the child tax credit payments, said the IRS “has done remarkable work” to implement the payments but that his office has “strongly and repeatedly” urged the IRS to make its website available in more languages.

“The expansion of the child tax credit is one of the most significant investments Washington has made in American families and kids in generations,” the Democrat said in a statement, “and it’s important that everyone who is eligible receives the tax credit payments.”

Source: Read Full Article