COLUMBIA, Mo. – Starting in the 2020 tax season, more rural Missourians in need will be able to learn about their eligibility for the federal earned income tax credit (EITC), one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty tools targeting low- and moderate-income working families.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health has awarded $1.35 million to University of Missouri Extension for a three-year community-based project to help strengthen supports for working families, said Graham McCaulley, associate extension professor in the Department of Personal Financial Planning in the MU College of Human Environmental Sciences.

Project partners include MU’s Truman School of Public Affairs and the Cambio Center.

This refundable tax credit is treated just like other tax payments, McCaulley said. Any amount left over after paying taxes owed can be received in the taxpayer’s refund.

“This can be a lifeline for working families,” said Andrew Zumwalt, also an associate extension professor in the personal financial planning department. “It can help them get caught up on their utility or medical bills, pay down debts or be used to help offset basic living expenses throughout the year.”

Missouri ranks 32nd in the nation in EITC participation. One in five eligible taxpayers in the state currently do not claim the credit. The initiative seeks to connect with these taxpayers, who are often among the most financially vulnerable of the working poor.

“Awareness will be crucial in the upcoming tax seasons as many families experiencing economic hardships for the first time may be newly eligible for the tax credit,” McCaulley said.

A team from MU Extension’s statewide network of county engagement specialists and field faculty will lead outreach efforts, bringing information directly to rural Missourians, especially in areas with significant Hispanic populations.

The Truman School’s Institute of Public Policy will lead the project’s research component to evaluate how the tax credit affects children in eligible households at risk for hunger, limited educational attainment and other challenges. The Cambio Center will provide cultural competency training and assist in the coordination of public outreach and materials translation.

“I am so very proud of our faculty’s commitment to Missouri families and the state’s economy,” said Jo Britt-Rankin, MU Extension senior program director for Youth and Family. “It is vital that we continue to dedicate our efforts to improving the lives of Missourians, their families and their communities.”

Zumwalt, McCaulley and Marco Pantoja, an MU Extension personal financial planning instructor, are the lead team for the initiative.

The EITC initiative complements MU’s comprehensive set of tax information resources and personal finance assistance, including leadership and management of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites across Missouri.