New America Media, News Report, Aaron Glantz
At issue is the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides refunds of up to $5,028 for a family of four.
More than 16,000 eligible Contra Costa families will miss out this year, researchers say, simply because they haven't applied for the credit.
"It's alarming that so many people are not claiming the credits," said Carol Perez, who provides free tax-preparation services at the city of Richmond’s Community Housing Development Corporation as part of the state's Earn It! Save It! Keep It! Campaign.
The town of Antioch had the most unclaimed credits, notes the report, titled "Left on the Table in Contra Costa County."
Residents of Antioch, which has been one of the hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, forfeited nearly $3 million in 2007 alone, the report says.
More than 1,900 families in the cities of Pittsburg, Richmond and Concord also failed to claim tax credits, according to the report.
Areas with the highest rates of unclaimed credits, the report said, also tend to be areas with higher concentrations of Hispanics and areas with large numbers of people who depend on food stamps.
"A lot people don't understand they are eligible," said Claudia Velasco, who provides free tax help at Mt. Diablo Housing Opportunity in Concord.
"A lot of people whose income is low think they don't need to file because they don't owe any taxes," she said. "They don't realize that if they do file, the government will send them a check."
The good news, Velesco said, is that federal law allows families to retroactively apply for unclaimed credits for up to three past years. A family of four that failed to claim the EITC in the last three years could get a check for over $15,000 from the Internal Revenue Service.
Researchers say the failure of Contra Costa County residents to claim the EITC has implications not only for individuals and families, but also for the entire economy.
"All this money that would come from outside sources is left untapped," said Antonio Avalos, professor of economics at Fresno State University, who wrote the report for Family Economic Security Partnership (FESP) of Contra Costa County, a public-private partnership dedicated to increasing the income and building the assets of low-income families.
"If it were claimed," Avalos said, "it would be injected into the local economy and generate a multiplier effect, creating jobs and even generating tax revenue."
In its report, Avalos asserts that if all EITC refunds were claimed they would spur 100 new jobs and $21 million in economic output.
An earlier report by Avalos, prepared for the New America Foundation in March, found that statewide more than 800,000 Californians were failing to claim the credit. The result is a ripple effect of 7,500 lost jobs and $311 million in wages that would be paid to those newly employed workers.
FESP of Contra Costa County hopes the report will spur new outreach efforts by government and community groups to encourage more people to apply for EITC.
The organization had sponsored a forum Thursday morning at the Concord Hilton Hotel co-sponsored by Congressmen George Miller and John Garamendi, the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and numerous community-based organizations.