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Detroit philanthropy leaders: Expanding access to the Child Tax Credit requires a place-based, cross-sectoral approach


Earlier this year, the Kresge, W.K. Kellogg and Skillman foundations joined with Ballmer Group to support the launch of Detroit’s Child Tax Credit campaign. Our four organizations share a long history and commitment to advancing opportunity for children and families. We believed it was critical to form a cross-sectoral coalition to take advantage of this benefit, provided under the American Rescue Plan Act, to reduce child poverty in Detroit by over a quarter by reaching the families most in need of the benefit.

The key would be activating and strengthening the strong community development and youth development infrastructure  philanthropy has  engaged and supported for years to resource organizations to provide targeted, individualized support for Detroit families to access the CTC.

Along with our partners at the United Way for Southeastern Michigan, the City of Detroit, Community Development Advocates of Detroit, Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan, Accounting Aid Society and Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency, we believe there is an opportunity for Detroit to model how this can be done. All told, Accounting Aid Society and Wayne Metro assisted in the processing of 3,500 family returns generating $4.6 million in refunds. (CTC expires at the end of the year although it could be reauthorized under the Biden administration’s Build Back Better legislation.)

As philanthropic leaders, we urge our local and national partners, and our partners in government, to consider efforts along this line. And as our state and federal leaders consider how to expand these resources for families, we simply invite them to join us in an effort to ensure that all families have access to these federal resources they need to thrive.

What are the core components of this campaign, and what were some key factors that made outreach successful?
Wendy Lewis Jackson, Managing Director, Detroit Program at The Kresge Foundation

This campaign, which to-date has reached over 200,000 families with texts, flyers and web-based information about the Child Tax Credit, has directly connected with 5,000 families with targeted outreach, and has completed taxes for over 3,500 families, is built on an underlying belief that neighborhood-based partners are trusted, credible sources of support and information for families. Along with our nonprofit partners, we believed that neighborhood-based organizations such as our Community Development Organizations or other place-based social service organizations were best positioned to share information about the Child Tax Credit, and to help families access free tax preparation services to fully receive these resources.

Detroit’s Child Tax Credit campaign, therefore, was built on a multi-pronged strategy grounded in a grassroots-led, neighborhood-based outreach campaign. More than 30 neighborhood-based organizations were coordinated and provided with resources to conduct individualized outreach to families through phone banking, canvassing, and virtual and in-person events, to share information and support families to access the Child Tax Credit. This “ground game” was supplemented by a comprehensive marketing campaign, with paid media such as billboards, bus shelter ads, and television and radio commercials. These were further augmented by innovative strategies, including a partnership with the State of Michigan to send mass texts to families receiving public benefits, or partnerships with youth sports leagues to share information on weekend game days. Once families are reached, they are then referred to nonprofit tax prep partners to complete taxes, and to additional partners to receive further resources that can advance economic mobility and opportunity.

Together, these strategies demonstrate the power of a place-based, cross-sectoral approach. Our neighborhood-based partners are working closely with policy and research partners to implement a data-informed outreach strategy. Our communications partners are working with our outreach partners to ensure message consistency and comprehensive coverage. Our outreach partners, in turn, are working with our tax prep partners to coordinate access to tax services. None of these partners could have done this alone, and it relies on a coordinated approach, rooted in the context of the neighborhoods in which families live, to ensure access is comprehensive and equitable.

 Why did your organization believe it was important to be a founding partner in this coalition?
Punita Thurman, Vice President of Program and Strategy at The Skillman Foundation

Having the policy in place wasn’t enough. To make good on the tax credit’s intent to protect children at a particularly fragile moment in time, a ground game was needed to help parents enroll. That takes trust. This coalition revolved around community organizations with trusted relationships and strong reputations within Detroit neighborhoods. They were critical to ensuring support reached families who needed it most.

We also jumped at the chance to join this effort for the opportunity to work together with a coalition of experts and other funders to have a greater combined impact. It’s an opportunity to leverage and grow partnerships across organizations—to co-design together, to share research and data, and to move in unison toward longer term advocacy and policy change.

I’d also add that the Expanded Child Tax Credit is an opportunity to demonstrate that loosening restrictions on public assistance can have a strong impact.

How do you believe Detroit, and this groundbreaking coalition, can model the way for other cities that wish to leverage its nonprofit infrastructure to support families to access federal resources?
Kylee Mitchell Wells, Executive Director, Southeast Michigan at Ballmer Group

Headshot of Kylee MitchellDetroit was able to leverage its existing resources like its Financial Empowerment Centers, which were already in place prior to the pandemic. Nonprofits selected by the city through the Financial Empowerment Centers served as the implementation partners needed to help families file their taxes. Not only was this campaign able to take advantage of this infrastructure, but the city also used this model to support families in gaining access to federal stimulus funding at the start of the pandemic. In addition, Detroit has a strong network of community-based organizations that have supported other direct outreach efforts, such as census outreach, and have been an important resource to residents throughout the pandemic.

It is only through these coordinated efforts that we can truly expand and sustain efforts to support children and families. We must find ways to help families take advantage of public resources in order to sustain and scale impact in the communities that we serve, and we must also support our families to improve their economic mobility through financial literacy and access to needed resources. We believe there is an opportunity for other cities to utilize similar existing nonprofit infrastructure, not only to help residents take advantage of the Child Tax Credit now, but to create the infrastructure needed to support families in future efforts.

What are the challenges that other communities should be aware of? What are the prerequisites that made this possible in Detroit and what is a call to action for other philanthropic partners and cities?
Faye Nelson, Director, Michigan Programs at W.K. Kellogg Foundation

When we, as a country, think about partnering to provide support, we don’t often think about how we help anchor families; we don’t think about fiscal resources and supports. Across our four partners, we include financial health when we think about all of the ways we want families to be healthy.

In this coalition, we are not reinventing the wheel. Anchored by the United Way as our backbone entity driving this initiative forward, we are working with community-based partners who have already been in place and have earned the community’s trust through established relationships.

This is a collaborative model that builds on the strength of partners who are already doing great work in the city – it’s taking their efforts and coordinating them strategically. It builds on existing efforts like Hope Starts Here, Detroit’s early childhood framework and partnership, that brought together tens of thousands of Detroiters across multiple sectors to agree on a shared vision for our city. It is focused on the same ends that we’re interested in – equitable access to resources and reducing poverty so the most vulnerable children have the opportunity to thrive. If it strengthens the family, it strengthens opportunities for the child and it strengthens the community.