Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC): An Underused Tool to Improve Maternal and Child Health

Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) are benefits for working people with low to moderate income that the federal government, many states, and some local communities offer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) HI-5 Initiative has identified EITCs as one of 14 key evidence-based interventions that is cost effective and can improve health in five years or less. However, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities estimates that 1 in 5 taxpayers do not receive their EITC benefit because they don’t know about it, or they don’t how to find tax help they trust.

On March 21, 2020, the Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) extended the federal income tax filing due date from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020. As this important deadline approaches, you can help raise awareness about the health benefits of Earned Income Tax Credits (EITCs) and encourage all eligible tax filers to access this important benefit.

How Public Health Can Improve Access to EITC

EITCs are one of the best public health interventions available, and public health can play a key role in increasing EITC availability and size, as well as helping more people access EITC benefits. Eligible families may need help to receive these important benefits.

To get started, use CDC Foundation’s (CDCF) recent publication of an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Public Health Action Guide for public health care professionals. CDCF, in partnership with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, has been working to identify ways that public health practitioners can learn about the development, enactment, and implementation of EITCs, as well as how to engage in cross-sector policy processes.

How EITCs Can Help Children and Working Mothers

Income can influence health in many ways and the financial stress and insecurity that often accompanies poverty can negatively affect health. In 2017, 1 in 6 children lived in poverty, so the potential health impacts of poverty are a significant public health concern for children.

By reducing poverty and increasing income for working families, the EITC has been linked to positive health outcomes, particularly for infants and mothers. For children facing circumstances that put them at risk, like poverty, enhancing maternal-child protective factors may help reduce the negative effects of stressors on long-term child health. Research shows EITCs can significantly improve health outcomes in five years or less including better birth outcomes, better health, better educational attainment, and more.

The EITC works to help those who need the help the most. For mothers with no more than a high school education, EITC reduces the rate of babies born with low birth weight. Mothers who receive the largest EITC increases have greater improvements in their own health, including high blood pressure and inflammation. Babies born to mothers eligible to receive the largest EITC increases had the greatest improvements in birth outcomes. State EITCs are a policy option that can help birth outcome disparities for black mothers, who historically have higher risk for worse birth outcomes.

Children’s mental health also can benefit from EITC. For example, in families receiving the EITC, children showed fewer behavioral health problems, including anxiety and depression.

Share Free Resources from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) on EITC

Share these IRS resources with families who may be eligible:

- Use the IRS’s EITC Assistant to help individuals learn if they qualify for tax years: 2019, 2018, and 2017.

- Suggest the IRS Free File Tool to help families eliminate filing costs.

- Visit EITC Central to learn more about free IRS resources including tools and resources developed for IRS partners, community organizations, employers, government agencies and offices, and tax preparers.

Eric Strunz
Eric Strunz is a program officer, Noninfectious Disease Programs, for the CDC Foundation.