This tax season, employees and volunteers at Boston Medical Center (BMC) turned financial advisers, helping return more than $400,000 to low-income families.
The program, StreetCred, was created to help parents of pediatric patients improve their financial stability and, in turn, reduce the effects of poverty on child health. More than 20 percent of families in the United States are eligible for earned income tax credit (EITC), an annual tax benefit for people with low to moderate incomes. But many people, unaware of their eligibility and lacking tax assistance, fail to receive the credit.
Two BMC pediatric residents had the idea for the program last winter, when a mother visiting the clinic asked if they could help her receive EITC.
“The answer that day, of course, was no,” said Michael Hole, MD, co-developer of the program and a pediatrician at the medical center. “But just one year later, that mother received over $5,000 in EITC because we filed her taxes in our clinic’s waiting room.”
Hole and another pediatric resident spent a year planning, fundraising, hiring, and training more than 20 volunteers for tax season. When parents brought their children for outpatient appointments, they were briefed on the program and asked if they were interested in participating. The no-cost tax preparation was available by appointment during and after clinic hours and on some weekends, to accommodate as many families as possible. Over the four-month tax season, StreetCred volunteers helped nearly 200 families.
“The literature shows children’s health, education, and future financial outcomes benefit when their caregivers receive the money.” Hole said.
Given the success of the pilot program—the first of its kind in the country—the developers plan to expand services. They would like to save families time and money by helping them to set up savings accounts, build budgets, apply for jobs, and more—all during a doctor’s visit. The team also is putting together a guide to help other health care facilities start similar programs.
“We envision one-stop shops of antipoverty tools for America’s most vulnerable families raising children,” Hole said. “We need to know, as pediatricians, that our patients’ caregivers are empowered to fully care for their children at home and in their communities before the families leave our health care facilities.”