Published on in Community Impact Report
Every day, CHOP pediatrician George Dalembert, MD, MSHP, sees the effects of poverty on children’s health.
So, when he saw research that showed providing free tax preparation services for low-income families results in more money in their pockets, he worked to make those services available at the Nicholas and Athena Karabots Pediatric Care Center, part of the CHOP Care Network, in West Philadelphia.
“There’s a national movement to address the social determinants of health — things like housing, food insecurity, education, safe neighborhoods — by helping families get in a better position financially,” Dalembert says. “Ensuring they are taking advantage of all the tax credits they are entitled to is one proven step toward that goal.”
Partnership with nonprofit
CHOP provides tax prep through a partnership with a nonprofit, the Campaign for Working Families (CWF), which is a local provider of a federal effort called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. Free tax help is available to people who make $56,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their personal tax returns. The Internal Revenue Service trains and certifies the volunteer tax preparers.
Families may learn about the service at Karabots through flyers or from their child’s care team when they have a well or sick visit. If they are interested, they make an appointment with a tax preparer so they can gather the necessary documents and ID. Neighbors who don’t have a child who is a Karabots patient can also use the service.
Why at Karabots?
“We wanted to remove any barriers to families,” Dalembert says. “The doctor-family relationship is strong. This is a trusted place, and there’s something for kids to do in the waiting room while parents are with the preparer. Colocating the service has helped significantly.”
Optimizing tax credits
The CWF tax preparers at Karabots are well versed in how to optimize tax refunds by making sure eligible families claim the earned income tax credit and the child tax credit.
“Our population is usually set up to receive those, but may not have claimed them in the past,” Dalembert says. “We have parents who tell us that they’re getting money back for the first time. The preparers do a wonderful job explaining why families are suddenly getting a refund.”
Families also fill out a questionnaire to see if they are eligible for other government services, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and other social programs. They then get help applying for appropriate programs.
“Our goal is to help families be in the best financial spot they can be,” Dalembert says. “We know that will influence their child’s long-term health.”