Jan 31, 2023

Closing the Gap: How Nurses Can Promote Tax Credits to Improve Health Equity

Each year, an estimated $12 billion in federal tax credits go unclaimed because about 20 to 30 percent of people who are eligible for tax credits incorrectly fill out their tax forms, or do not file at all.  We know disparities disproportionally impact people of color, women and those in isolated rural areas.  While these individuals often stand to benefit the most from tax credits, they are also most likely to miss out. AARP and the Future of Nursing: Campaign for Action are supporting an innovative program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) that partners with nurses as trusted messengers to make sure taxpayers are accessing and maximizing receipt of federal tax credits. The Campaign is an initiative of AARP Foundation, AARP, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Nurses see first-hand how the social determinants of health play a role in perpetuating health disparities. Poor health is driven not only by biology, but by financial security, housing stability, neighborhood safety, quality of relationships, and other environmental factors that affect our ability to access healthcare and pursue health. Closing disparities in health requires thinking upstream and offering interventions for these social and material needs.

Tax Credits Are Key to Health Equity

Refundable tax credits that put cash in people’s hands are among the most powerful anti-poverty tools available for individuals, families, and the communities where those dollars get spent. The federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit (CTC) are two examples that can have a significant impact on not only the financial security of low-to-moderate income families, but their health as well. A report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that children in families that received the EITC had better health outcomes, such as higher vaccination rates and improved cognitive development. Tax credits can also increase access to food, housing, and healthcare.

AARP Foundation Tax-Aide operates a free tax preparation program to ensure that taxpayers, especially those over 50 with low to moderate income, get assistance preparing returns and receive the tax credits for which they are eligible.  “These credits make an enormous difference in the lives and health of those we serve by putting more money in their pockets, increasing their financial security,” says Emily Allen, Senior Vice President, Programs at AARP Foundation. “I love the idea that nurses are helping connect patients with these vital and underutilized, benefits. It could be a game changer, especially for older adults.” While the UCLA study focuses on families with young children, the approach of partnering with nurses has potential for use with many other populations who could benefit from tax credits.

The Role of Nurses

Nurses are in an ideal position to help people understand the benefits of tax filing and refer them to resources to tap into this source of direct cash. Nurses are routinely rated the most honest and ethical profession. People have a unique degree of trust in nurses because of the personal relationships nurses build with patients and their families in all the settings where they work.

This tax season, UCLA is harnessing the power of nursing to connect people who may benefit from them to tax credits. UCLA’s interprofessional research team developed a multi-sector partnership with a financial start-up, Let’s Get Set, and Maternal Child Health Access (MCHA), a community-based maternal/infant health non-profit organization in Los Angeles. Let’s Get Set provides a platform for parents with low to moderate incomes, making less than $70,000, to file taxes, receive text message support, and maximize the tax credits they are entitled to. It also connects users to local resources for free tax filing assistance. UCLA is implementing Let’s Get Set with MCHA clients and assessing health outcomes associated with receipt of tax credits. Partnering with the California Action Coalition, Let’s Get Set will be disseminated more broadly throughout the state.

Please visit https://www.letsgetset.co/ for more information about the platform and a free partner toolkit, available in English and Spanish, for nurses or other healthcare workers to guide conversations about tax credits with patients and families. For more information about the UCLA study, please contact Dr. Kristen Choi at krchoi@ucla.edu.

This project is one of 16 AARP and Campaign for Action Health Equity Innovation Fund Awards. To learn more about other innovative programs, please visit:   https://campaignforaction.org/recipients-of-health-equity-innovations-fund-awards/

Acknowledgements: Cecile Yama, Lynn Kersey and Yvette Leon.


Kristen Choi, PhD, RN, FAAN

Erin Leddy

Jennifer Peed, MSW