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Many Low-Income Americans Don’t Take Advantage of EITC

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- While the Earned Income Tax Credit assists families with children who have lower incomes, helping reduce the poverty rate while also providing a work incentive, about one in five eligible filers may not be taking advantage of the program, which is why advocates are trying to raise awareness toward the end of the tax-filing season.

Lack of awareness among the "newly poor," could be one reason why eligible filers don't know they are available, said Rod West, Entergy's chief administrative officer, whose company has been working with the IRS and United Way to raise awareness of the program.

About 27 million working families and individuals received the EITC in the 2009 tax year, the most recent year in which data is available, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.  The center said that in 2010, the EITC helped boost about 6.3 million people out of poverty, including 3.3 million children.

While there has been criticism that some EITC filers don't pay any taxes at all, the Center of Budget and Policy Priorities said over the long term, those filers paid more in taxes than they received in benefits in a study from the period of 1989 through 2006.

Entergy, an energy company based in New Orleans, has promoted the EITC to its 2.7 million customers in Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi as part of an outreach effort for about a decade.

The company has mailed customers 2.2 million statement stuffers, sent automated phone calls this year and initiated a number of ways to educate filers about the EITC.

When asked why an energy company would be promoting this credit, West said -- because of our economy -- the company recognizes that many families in its service territory have lived at or below the poverty line.

"The need is more prevalent because of the economic strife the country is facing," he said.  "We started about 10 years ago and we're just glad the word is getting out with the importance of EITC with so many families struggling."

Depending on marital status and the number of dependent children, working families with children that have annual incomes below about $36,900 to $50,300 may be eligible for the federal EITC, while several states have their own programs.  Working, low-income people without children with incomes below about $13,900, or $19,200 for a married couple, can receive a small tax credit.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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