Making Tax Benefits More Accessible by Bringing GetCTC to Puerto Rico
Since it was expanded last March, the Child Tax Credit (CTC) has made a significant difference in the lives of millions of families. With this tax benefit, more families were able to put food on the table, find childcare, and pay their bills. At Code for America, we’ve helped nearly 135,000 of those families claim their benefits through our simplified tax filing tool, GetCTC. That’s a significant number, but there are still hundreds of thousands of families who haven’t received the CTC, and it’s our mission to help as many of them as possible access the tax benefits they deserve.
That’s why, today, we’re excited to announce we’ve expanded GetCTC to Puerto Rico residents. Now, the vast majority of families on the island can claim the CTC using our online tool in just 10 to 15 minutes. We hope that GetCTC will help reach up to hundreds of thousands of Puerto Rican children who may still be missing out on this critical benefit.
The 2021 American Rescue Plan made critical improvements to the CTC. One of the most powerful—yet perhaps least discussed—was establishing equity for Puerto Rico residents. Previously, Puerto Rican families were only eligible for the CTC if they had three or more eligible children, an arcane rule that barred 90% from receiving the credit. Under the Rescue Plan, regardless of how many children they have, Puerto Rican families are eligible for the full amount of the newly expanded CTC—up to $3,600 per child.
But as we are keenly aware, policy is only as effective as its delivery. The Rescue Plan did not indicate how nearly 300,000 newly-eligible Puerto Rican families would get their money. Most families in Puerto Rico aren’t required to file federal tax returns with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), filing instead with the Puerto Rico tax agency. Like “non-filers” in the fifty states, the IRS only needs basic information: name, Social Security number, address, bank information, and children’s information. The status quo for these families has been to provide this and claim the CTC using a paper copy of Form 1040-SS, which was primarily designed for territory residents who earn money from self-employment or agriculture. While many families have navigated this process this year, it has, unsurprisingly, proved challenging for many others.
By launching GetCTC in Puerto Rico, we aim to empower many more families to claim the tax benefits that are rightfully theirs.
By launching GetCTC in Puerto Rico, we aim to empower many more families to claim the tax benefits that are rightfully theirs. Of course, this isn’t our work alone. We’re able to expand GetCTC to Puerto Rico thanks to innovative rulemaking by the Department of the Treasury and the IRS. GetCTC is built to file information on Form 1040, the IRS form used for most individual tax returns. Rebuilding GetCTC to work with Form 1040-SS would have been a big undertaking. Instead, the IRS announced in May that Puerto Rican families would be allowed to file a simplified return using Form 1040. With this rule, the IRS continues to build on the proven success of simplified filing—and sets the stage for further expansions.
Thanks to the rule change, we were able to fairly easily update our application to accommodate Puerto Rico residents. The updated tool shows Puerto Rican users slightly different pages than stateside users—including additional clarification about the distinction between federal and Puerto Rico taxes, skipping information about the Recovery Rebate Credit (which was not administered by the IRS in Puerto Rico), and using Puerto Rican dialect for key tax terms. GetCTC also now allows all clients to select their language preference for IRS communication, meaning Puerto Rican clients can make sure they don’t receive IRS notices in a language they don’t understand.
We’re also grateful to the many organizations on the ground in Puerto Rico that are doing the hard work of helping families claim their money. Groups like Unidos US, Hispanic Federation, Instituto del Desarrollo de la Juventud, and Espacios Abiertos have done incredible work connecting families to the CTC this year, and will be the key leaders in getting the expanded tool in front of the families who need it. Partnerships like this—in which community organizations, government, and civic tech practitioners come together to drive an effort forward—help ensure that policies get implemented in a way that is equitable, efficient, and human-centered.
So, who will benefit from this expansion? GetCTC is for families in Puerto Rico who haven’t yet filed a return this year to claim the CTC; who aren’t otherwise required to file a federal return with the IRS; and who earned less than $75,000 single (or $150,000 married). The tool will be available through the close of the e-filing season this fall, and during that time, we look forward to helping many Puerto Rican families get the support they need to thrive.
GetCTC is available in English at GetCTC.org. GetCTC está disponible en español en GetCTC.org/es. A new landing page targeted specifically for Puerto Rican residents is available at GetCTC.org/puertorico. Please help us get the word out. You can find more information on what you can do to help with outreach and engagement at GetCTC.org/navigators.