By Cindy Foster

When Credit Is Due

UNM Health Sciences Program Helps Low-Income Patients Claim Tax Refunds

The correlation between poverty and ill health has long been clear, and financial difficulties can place generations of families at risk.

The University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center Office of Community Health recently was awarded a three-year, $450,000 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Minority Health grant to train frontline community health workers and medical assistants to screen clients and patients for eligibility for Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) in screening indigent clients for this tax refund eligibility.

Research shows financial hardship is a risk factor for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the new program provides training for health care workers to help families –many of whom may not know they are eligible - receive their EITC benefits.

The department’s Community Health Workers Initiatives Operations Director Venice Ceballos is leading the program with support from Anna Goodwin who has special expertise in tax preparation.

“The grant allows us to train staff at many organizations to help their patients or clients obtain these benefits,” says Art Kaufman MD, professor in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine and vice president for Community Health.

The model was developed from a successful pilot program launched in April 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Initially, the goal was to assist clients applying for the COVID Economic Impact Payments.  In doing so, the project team discovered a significant percentage of clients had not filed taxes and were unaware of EITC benefits, leaving funds that could benefit both low-income families and the New Mexico economy were left unclaimed.

 “During the pilot, we were able to screen more than 60 clients and refer them to free tax preparation services, resulting in receipt of over $86,000 in EITC claims,” Goodwin says.

“Our model of EITC screening and referral provides a network of support that can make the crucial difference as to whether a family can avoid eviction, or repossession of a car, or feed a family adequately. EITC checks average $2,500 for those who qualify for the tax credits, which is even larger than federal ‘COVID Stimulus Checks,’” Kaufman says.

The grant allows for training of partner agency personnel as well. Participating safety net organizations include UNM Hospital, First Choice Community Healthcare and the Pathways Program.

​“We believe this model can change the way that EITC outreach and education are conducted in New Mexico and we believe this model can be effective across the country,” says Janet Page-Reeves, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Family & Community Medicine and director of research for the Office for Community Health.


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