"Economic resources can be a powerful tool in changing a domestic violence survivor’s circumstances. An EITC refund can provide survivors with the money they need to exit an abusive relationship or help them remain independent after having left."
Helping Domestic Violence Survivors Claim the Earned Income Tax Credit
How does the EITC help?
Lifting over 5 million people out of poverty every year, the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is the nation’s largest cash assistance program for low-income families. Along with child support, it is the biggest income support for low-income working parents with children. For tax year 2010 EITC was available to families whose adjusted gross income did not exceed $43,352 with three or more qualifying children; $40,363 with two qualifying children; $35,535 with one qualifying child; and $13,460 with no qualifying children. Yet, the IRS estimates that 20 to 25 percent of eligible taxpayers do not claim the EITC.
Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia provide a state version of the EITC to supplement the federal credit. In addition, local governments in Montgomery County, Maryland, San Francisco, and New York City offer their own version of the EITC. For information and tools on helping domestic violence survivors claim the EITC and other tax benefits that might assist them, visit www.IDAResources.org and click “EITC and Tax Assistance”.
Low-income workers who do not live with their children may also be eligible for a much smaller EITC than is available for families with children, but many fail to claim it. The maximum credit for an individual with no children in 2010 was $457. In some cases, the noncustodial parent can claim a child in applying for the EITC, even if the parent cannot claim the child as a dependent for tax purposes. IRS Publication 4449: Tax Information for Noncustodial Parents http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/p4449.pdf informs noncustodial parents who are paying child support of special rules which apply to their eligibility to claim dependents and EITC. The IRS or another government agency can intercept the tax refund if the parent owes child support.
How can domestic violence survivors benefit from the EITC?
While domestic violence occurs across all socio-economic groups, women living in poverty experience it at higher rates than their higher income peers. Research shows that women with household incomes of less than $7,500 are 7 times as likely as women with household incomes over $75,000 to experience domestic violence. Economic resources can be a powerful tool in changing a domestic violence survivor’s circumstances. An EITC refund can provide survivors with the money they need to exit an abusive relationship or help them remain independent after having left. Financial and housing concerns often dictate decisions related to whether or when to leave the relationship (For more information, see Asset Building for Domestic Violence Survivors: Why is it important? at http://idaresources.org/page?pageid=a047000000Bo2RbAAJ).
Despite the apparent benefits, individuals still in abusive relationships may not see the advantages of filing for the EITC due to the financial and other types of control exerted by their abusers.
How can domestic violence agencies partner with AFI grantees to help survivors with children claim the EITC?
Tax time can be an extremely stressful time for survivors of domestic violence. If the survivor has been married or is still married and separated from her abusive partner, tax filing may require her to be in contact with her abuser. Domestic violence providers and AFI grantees will need to be prepared to assist survivors safely navigate the process of filing a joint return or securing information from a partner related to filing her own return.
If a survivor is faced with a tax debt due to fraudulent or understatement of tax liability claimed by a spouse on a jointly filed tax return, eligibility for relief under “Innocent Spouse” status should be explored. For more information, see IRS Innocent Spouse Questions and Answers at: http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=109283,00.html.
AFI grantees can also help domestic violence agencies foster relationships with local VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) programs and become more knowledgeable about the tax filing process. These relationships will also help VITA staff and volunteers learn how to address filing situations that are common among survivors. Partnerships between domestic violence programs and VITA sites can include offering referrals, inviting domestic violence advocates to become IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers, and/or running a VITA site at a domestic violence shelter or outreach office.
This is one in a series of fact sheets on asset-building and Domestic Violence Survivors produced by the Assets for Independence Resource Center. For more information about AFI services, visit the resource center website at www.IDAresources.org or contact the center at 1-866-778-6037 or via email at info@IDAresources.org To find an AFI grantee near you, go to http://www.idaresources.org/Map. To search for domestic violence programs by state go to: http://www.nnedv.org/resources/coalitions.html.
For more information about the safety challenges of survivors or for guidance on developing safety protocols contact the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence at 1-800-.537.2238. For information about how to partner with local or state domestic violence programs contact the National Network to End Domestic Violence at 202-543-5566. Survivors in need of assistance can also call the National Domestic Violence hotline at 1-800-799-7233.
 Tax Credits for Working Families, “Earned Income Tax Credit.” http://www.taxcreditsforworkingfamilies.org/earned-income-tax-credit/
 While the focus here is on women victimized by male partners or ex-partners, since they disproportionately represent domestic violence victims, men abused by female partners and men and women abused in same-sex relationships also deserve protections, support and advocacy services.
 Rennison, C.M. (2003). Crime Data Brief, Intimate Partner Violence, 1993-2001. Bureau of Justice Statistics.