State launches campaign to publicize new tax break for working poor

State officials and advocates kicked off a publicity campaign Wednesday to make sure that California's poorest working families take advantage of a new tax credit available to them.

"We're trying to put $400 million into the pockets of about 600,000 Californians," said Nancy McFadden, a top aide to Gov. Jerry Brown, on a call with reporters. "Our job ... is to make sure we reach those 600,000 people."

Known as the earned income tax credit, the benefit -- already part of the federal tax code and a top priority for Democratic legislators -- was embraced by Brown in this year's budget negotiations as he faced criticism from some anti-poverty advocates who said he was not doing enough to help the poor.

"Creating a state-level earned income tax credit was the highlight of the 2015 legislative year," said Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) in a recorded message.

The policy helps California residents on a sliding scale, based on their income and how many children they have. It's narrowly tailored to target the poorest Californians; the cutoff for a family with two or more children is $13,870.

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The state credit complements the broader federal earned income tax credit, which has a maximum qualifying income of just over $53,000 for married joint filers with three or more children.

McFadden said one in four eligible families in California do not claim their federal tax credit, leaving nearly $2 billion on the table. To make sure more people take advantage of the federal credit, and learn about the state credit available for the first time in 2016, state officials, philanthropists, community groups and businesses have launched a "CalEITC4Me" publicity campaign to raise awareness.

The CalEITC4Me website features a calculator where taxpayers can estimate their credit as well as informational materials. It will also offer information on free tax preparation services.

"We have a huge opportunity with CalEITC to demonstrate the best of what public service ought to be and that's directly engaging people in need to make their lives better," said Joe Sanberg, an Orange County entrepreneur who chairs the publicity campaign.

Follow @melmason for more on California government and politics.

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