The voices of Tax Policy Center's researchers and staff
New mothers, families with low incomes, and immigrant parents often miss out on tax benefits by failing to file returns. But with tax filing season beginning, we have identified new ways to assist them, including the use of technology and, perhaps surprisingly, nurses. The key is using community members as trusted messengers who can help make filing taxes and other interactions with government seem less daunting.
Recent research shows immigrant families are more likely to claim tax benefits after receiving help from these trusted messengers. Trusted messengers can provide clearer and more accessible information, reduce language barriers, and correct misinformation about how claiming tax benefits may affect immigration status. Indeed, other research found families that include both US-born and immigrant members sometimes failed to claim COVID-19 stimulus benefits for which they were eligible because they feared it would jeopardize their legal status.
To analyze the role trusted messengers play in helping new mothers access tax benefits, we looked at a comprehensive effort to provide tax assistance to new mothers. The National Service Office for Nurse-Family Partnership and Child First brings together Nurse-Family Partnership (NFP) nurses with new mothers in their homes. Last year, the group partnered with Let’s Get Set (LGS), a mission-driven financial technology company that builds mobile tools to advance the financial security of low- and middle-income parents.
The goal of the joint venture: To use NFP nurses to connect new mothers to LGS’s tax-filing tools and assistance. In addition to their health care support, , nurses also share information with new and expectant mothers about community resources and public benefits. Let’s Get Set gave nurses valuable tools to share with families to access important benefits. Nurses provided information about LGS and sometimes even helped the mothers fill out the information on the LGS website to calculate their likely benefits from filing taxes. LGS provided text and phone assistance both for the new mothers and the NFP nurses. Finally, the mothers received a referral to a service for free on-line or in-person assistance with filing their taxes.
Why are such tax partnerships promising?
NFP mothers are younger, lower-income, and more likely to be Black or Hispanic than the national average for all new mothers. Therefore, these mothers were more likely to benefit from free help to navigate a complicated tax system.
While our sample size was small, the results reveal important lessons that can help tax preparers this season.
For example, in the survey of new mothers we observed that LGS moms were more likely to file income tax returns than those not in the program, their refunds averaged $500 more, and they were more likely to use free tax preparation software.
However, a sizable number of these mothers paid for tax filing last year, even though they could have used a free service. This suggests the need for further efforts to build trust and disseminate free resources to new parents early.
What was the role of nurses as trusted messengers to help new mothers’ file?
A second brief summarizes a survey of NFP nurses, who worked with LGS and acted as trusted messengers for new mothers. About 45 percent of the NFP nurses we surveyed said they referred all their patients to LGS, but about 20 percent did not refer any. They cited several reasons, including that patients had no income, were too young, would not understand the content, did not speak English, or had not yet had their babies.
After establishing the NFP/LGS partnership, nurses became more comfortable talking about taxes to their clients. They also were more likely to think discussing taxes with new parents was an important part of their normal care routine.
These findings highlight the importance of teaching nurses the value of providing tax filing information to their patients and their role as trusted messengers to new mothers. Prior to the partnership, some nurses were nervous about discussing tax filing with their clients. Partnerships like the one between NFP and LGS can help increase confidence and provide important resources that trusted messengers can disseminate.
How to be mindful of these findings this tax season?
Overall our findings reveal that trusted messengers and access to filing assistance can help new mothers better access tax benefits. These strategies may improve the delivery of a variety of supports for new parents during this tax season.
Kim Rueben is an unpaid advisor to Let’s Get Set
Posts and comments are solely the opinion of the author and not that of the Tax Policy Center, Urban Institute, or Brookings Institution.