National Social Work Month: How the EITC Can Provide Additional Support to High-Need Community Members

Izzy Rassel

Social workers are critical in supporting underserved populations by proposing and implementing interventions to improve their well-being. Some of these interventions include helping vulnerable children and families access healthcare and housing, combat food insecurity, navigate gaps in the foster care system, and, in many cases, find ways to mitigate financial stressors.

A study from The Council of Social Work Education found that most social workers served high-need populations — those below the federal poverty level — regardless of their practice’s overall focus or setting. Moreover, about half of the new social workers in direct social work positions reported that over 50% of their clients were below the federal poverty level. The study’s respondents cited children and families as the primary focus of their work, with more than one-third emphasizing this population.

Additionally, the Journal of Family and Economic Issues found that financial instability is “significantly associated with higher psychological distress.” This means that those needing social work services the most have the most difficulty paying for and finding them. While social workers can support the emotional well-being of high-need communities, their financial well-being can significantly impact the progress they can make and continue the cycle of poverty.

This is where effective anti-poverty policies and programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) can further support low- to moderate-income workers and families. The EITC offsets some or all of a worker’s federal income taxes and, in many cases, provides a supplemental source of income to help offset other taxes, such as sales or payroll taxes. Making eligible participants aware of the EITC is a low-lift way to put money back into the hands of those who need it most. It also alleviates the stress put on social workers to fill in as a safety net for many high-needs populations, as on average, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) have lifted nearly eight million individuals out of poverty per year between 2017 and 2021.

The EITC provides billions of dollars in aid to help reduce poverty, improve youth academic outcomes, and promote employment. In 2023, about 23 million workers and families received an estimated $57 billion in EITC distributions. Although the program is primarily targeted toward workers raising children, others may qualify and should check their eligibility. It’s necessary for any and all eligible filers, especially those receiving support from social workers, to be able to access additional funds that can further support their overall well-being.

In that sense, policymakers, community organizations, advocacy groups, and those working on-the-ground can help build momentum to strengthen federal and state EITCs, raise awareness around the significance of tax credits, and encourage people to check their tax credit eligibility and take advantage of its valuable benefits, each year.