CalEITC4Me awareness campaign
From left, Frank Quezada, resident services supervisor for the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara; Santa Barbara City College spokeswoman Luz Reyes-Martin; Laura Capps, a CalEITC4Me board member; SBCC Superintendent-President Anthony Beebe; state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; and Assemblywoman Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara, at the SBCC food pantry Friday. The group was on hand to promote the California Earned Income Tax Credit and what it can do for students. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

A program is helping put money in the hands of eligible low-income wage earners when they file their tax return, and advocates are raising awareness about the earned income tax credit.

Working families and individuals may qualify for the California Earned Income Tax Credit.

It’s the first time that people ages 18 to 24 in California are eligible to claim the so-called Cal EITC.

Filing an income tax return is necessary to receive the credit.

Cal EITC was introduced to provide a much-needed boost for low-income wage earners filing tax returns.

This year, it’s estimated that more than 600,000 young people statewide are expected to qualify for the credit.

The majority of Californians eligible are working part-time and single. More than 70 percent of people who qualify for the program are women, said Laura Capps, a board member of CalEITC4Me, a public-private partnership spreading the word about the credit.

“If you file your taxes, you might get up to thousands of dollars afterward,” she said. “Studies have shown for decades it’s the way people pay their bills. Pay off that car loan. The way they buy shoes for their kids.

“Every year, billions of dollars go back to Washington rather than … the pockets of students.”

Cal EITC advocates held an outreach event at Santa Barbara City College on Friday to talk about the credit and increase the availability of free local tax preparation services.

CalEITC4Me awareness campaign

A Santa Barbara City College student learns about the California Earned Income Tax Credit program outside the SBCC food pantry Friday. (Brooke Holland / Noozhawk photo)

Education and outreach activities were provided in English and Spanish.

Multiple speakers gathered in front of SBCC’s vegetable gardens and food pantry patio on East Campus to discuss the program, and how food insecurity is standing in the way of a better life for young adults.

Cal EITC advocates are teaming up with state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson, D-Santa Barbara; Assemblywoman Monique Limón, D-Santa Barbara; SBCC Superintendent-President Anthony Beebe; and the United Way of Santa Barbara County.

“You look out here … this place feeds the soul,” said Jackson, mentioning the nearby features of the ocean and mountains. “But, you need more to feed the body … and the body is part of what we need to be successful for life. I’ve tried ramen; it’s not great. There are worse things but you don’t want to live on that.”

She stressed that “education is the tool for success,” and spoke of bringing money “back to people who really need help in order to function and survive as they try to make their lives better.”

“We want you to have what you need to be successful,” Jackson said.

Last year, the CalEITC4Me awareness campaign, along with United Way and other partners, assisted 1.4 million people claim nearly $400 million in Cal EITC.

Young workers with families may be eligible for the program and could receive up to $2,879.

If eligible for the program, people making $16,750 or less could get up to $232.

Beebe mentioned students’ financial instability, and noted that about “50 percent of our students are living below poverty (level).”

The stresses of poverty may lead to academic struggles for students in college, he said.

Many SBCC students are single parents attending the college, employed or taking care of others.

“And on top of all of that, many have food and housing insecurities,” Beebe said. “We know that every dollar we can get back into the students’ hands is a dollar that’s going to help them work toward their degree … Help them pay the rent. Do other things that are going to be beneficial to them.”

Limón said she has had the opportunity to work with thousands of students in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties for more than 14 years.

“Food insecurity, housing and mental health were the top basic needs that were not being met by our state for students,” she said.

As college costs rise, some students go hungry.

“When we think about our own college experience, it’s easy to think about what we ate, what we didn’t eat,” Limón said. “But the reality now is that the cost of tuition has gone up incrementally high, and students can’t afford the same things.

“The trade-offs they are making are much more difficult than when we were in school.”

Noozhawk staff writer Brooke Holland can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.