By Nalleli Sandoval
United Ways of California 

As we approach our third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of working  Latinos struggle to pay rent, put food on the table, or gas in the car. It’s been a continually difficult time, but there are two major programs in California that can put up to $4,160 in the pockets of those who need it most.

The California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC) allows eligible families earning between $1 and $30,000 to receive up to $3,160 in cash. But more than 40 percent of those who did not apply for CalEITC, or 272,000 people, identify as Latino or Hispanic, according to 2017 data from the California Tax and Franchise Bureau.

However, we can easily address this by telling friends, family, and neighbors to claim what they are rightfully owed.

Another program that gives cash to parents is the Child Tax Credit. It provides an additional $1,000 to qualifying households with children age six and younger. Combined with CalEITC, a family could receive up to $4,160. This credit can help cover medicines, school supplies, transportation, utilities, and many of our other daily expenses.

Best of all, if they are eligible, they only need to file a California state tax return to receive the money. If you forgot to file your tax return during the past four years, you can still file it and get a cash refund for those years if you were eligible. And for those who don’t have a Social Security number, they can apply for tax credits using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN).

The tax return can seem like a rattle when you’re busy supporting your families and aren’t familiar with the rules and forms. Some will turn to tax professionals for help, but this costs money and too often they don’t get the tax credits they deserve. State data shows that 92 percent of eligible individuals who hired a tax preparer in 2017 still did not claim CalEITC.

Instead of spending hundreds of dollars to file their taxes, eligible adults and families can use the free tax assistance services available throughout California in Families can get support to claim their tax credits on their own or with an IRS-trained volunteer, either virtually or at a local tax preparation assistance site.

While the pandemic is still damaging our lives, some of the financial pressure can be alleviated by accessing calEITC and the Younger Child Tax Credit. They are a great help, and it costs nothing to receive them. You just need to file your taxes and spread the word so we can make sure everyone who is eligible gets these tax credits and doesn’t leave money behind.

Nalleli is a senior director of programs for United Ways of California.