It’s tax season again and there is a way to help qualifying filers file their taxes for free!
Every tax season the United Way Bay Area teams up with local nonprofits to lead the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) coalition to provide free tax-filing services to clients with a household income under $55,000.
Eligible clients with income under $55,000 are able to take advantage of tax credits that are linked to breaking the cycle of poverty; such as the Federal and State Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). To receive these services, clients can find a tax site near them at www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org and filter through over 200 free tax sites in the Bay Area.
- For additional help in navigating the system, call 211 and an operator can assist you.
- CLICK HERE for a printable and downloadable document with more information about the program and what to bring to a VITA site (in English and Spanish).
- To learn more about Earn It! Keep It! Save It! (EKS), click here to visit www.earnitkeepitsaveit.org
Today marks a new chapter for California’s families with the inaugurations of not only Gavin Newsom as California’s 40th Governor, but also Tony Thurmond–former Contra Costa Assemblymember and West County School Board member–as the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Both have publicly committed to ensuring that every child has the best start in life and is fully ready to engage and succeed in kindergarten and beyond.
“The research very strongly supports investing in early childhood to reap education, health, and social benefits later in life. Governor Newsom will likely waste no time in putting into action the early childhood policies he promoted in his campaign,” said Sean Casey, First 5 Contra Costa Executive Director.
“The leadership from the Governor, Superintendent Thurmond, and an equally supportive legislature could very quickly transform California’s early education system in ways we haven’t seen since the creation of the higher education system in the 1960’s,” he added.
First 5 Contra Costa stands ready to help implement these exciting possibilities in the months and years to come. “Everything we’ve done up to now, whether by building quality in early education, training the next generation of providers, or supporting and strengthening families, has prepared us for the time when public investments make high-quality early childhood education and family support universal,” said Mr. Casey.
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First 5 Contra Costa
First 5 Contra Costa helps young children start school healthy, nurtured and ready to learn by investing in programs and activities focused on children during their first five years, the most important time in children’s development. First 5 Contra Costa has invested more than $140 million in Proposition 10 tobacco tax funds to help Contra Costa’s children get the best possible start in life.
As advocates for the healthy growth and development of young children, we at First 5 Contra Costa are outraged by the horrifying reports and images of the separation of children from their families at our southern border. Our work is based on the scientific knowledge that a healthy childhood is the essential foundation for lifelong growth and development. We know that to build that foundation, every child needs and deserves loving, safe and secure relationships with their parents and caregivers.
Separating children from their parents, especially those who are escaping the stress and trauma of unsafe home communities, introduces needless and unacceptable trauma into their young lives. Severely traumatic childhood events such as these are linked to adult addiction, chronic disease, cancer and heart disease.
We cannot escape the conclusion that a federal policy to remove children from their families is akin to willful child abuse. At times throughout this country’s history, government has unjustly, yet legally separated countless children of color from their families. We recognize the relationship between this dark chapter and others in our history in which young people of color have been traumatized and oppressed.
We condemn these inhumane actions and urge our elected officials and all who stand for families to bring this terrible practice immediately to an end. The children who remain separated from their parents must be immediately reunited. There is no justification for the actions that have occurred in the past several weeks and we hope they will never be replicated.
First 5 Contra Costa is pleased to announce our new campaign to help parents meet the everyday challenges of raising babies and toddlers and help more kids achieve healthy development. Called Help Me Grow, the campaign directs parents to a new website and 211 phone line where they can find answers to parenting questions and concerns, no matter how big or small. Services are free and confidential.
The campaign includes bilingual ads in English and Spanish and is sponsored by First 5 Alameda County, First 5 Contra Costa, and the Thomas J. Long Foundation.
“From the day they are born, babies are constantly changing. It’s exciting, and it can also be challenging for families to figure out what their baby or toddler needs next,” said Sean Casey, Executive Director of First 5 Contra Costa. “Help Me Grow support families through every stage of their baby’s development, from first smiles to the first day of school.”
Through its phone and texting services and website, Help Me Grow offers parents information about developmental milestones, what to do if they have concerns about their baby’s development, and where to find local services such as parenting classes, health clinics, or food banks. Help Me Grow also helps families find free developmental screening to check how babies are growing and developing; referrals for children to get evaluated if there are developmental concerns; and services for children who need to catch up on their development.
The advertising campaign will run through the summer and includes online ads, brochures and posters distributed through pediatric offices in the East Bay, and outdoor ads in Contra Costa County communities.
New bilingual brochures, postcards, and posters are available for Contra Costa organizations to distribute. Email us at email@example.com to order a supply.
Connect to Help Me Grow:
- Visit helpmegrowcoco.org
- Call 211 to speak to a HMG Specialist
- Text “hmg” to 898211
In the midst of immigration recent raids that swept the Bay Area, Contra Costa County launched a new hotline and rapid-response initiative to provide free, trustworthy information and legal support to immigrant families.
Called Stand Together Contra Costa, the initiative includes a 24-hour hotline, a new multi-lingual website, rapid response for local deportation activities, legal consultations and deportation defense services, and immigrant rights education and training.
The mission of Stand Together Contra Costa is to ensure that all people in Contra Costa County, regardless of citizenship or immigration status, are afforded the due-process rights established by the Constitution. The initiative is modeled after similar programs in most Bay Area counties.
The Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors and local foundations are funding this public-private initiative. The Office of the Public Defender and a coalition of nonprofit organizations led by Catholic Charities of the East Bay are managing the program.
Immigrant families First 5-funded programs serve have expressed increasing fear and anxiety regarding misinformation, discrimination, and deportation threats they’ve experienced since the Trump Administration’s immigration crackdowns started last year. Just last week, a national survey of educators showed that these crackdowns are significantly harming children’s academic performance, attendance, and behavior.
Stand Together Contra Costa will allay some of these fears and support our Contra Costa neighbors and families. Please share this new resource widely.
Stand Together’s 24-hour, staffed hotline can be reached at (925) 900-5151, or visit standtogethercontracosta.org.
Governor Brown issued his budget proposal last week, as he does every January. Many organizations, like the California Budget & Policy Center, offer smart analyses and explanations of what is in the Governor’s budget. The good news is that this year’s budget offers early childhood advocates a lot to be excited about, including investments in early childhood education, health, and family support – all of the things that First 5 believes are critically important for children and families to succeed.
A lot of work and revision will happen between now and when the budget becomes final in June. But the January budget is significant because it signals the Governor’s priorities and the budget projections give the legislature a sense of the dollars available to work with.
For Contra Costa children, the budget holds a lot of promise.
The budget includes many improvements to early childhood education programs. It increases funding for subsidized child care programs; increases the number of high-quality preschool slots; and creates a new online community college for early childhood education, which should lead to more qualified child care teachers. Those are big, important moves that will support, strengthen and grow California’s early childhood system. Exactly how many parents, children and providers would be affected in Contra Costa is not yet clear, but currently there is an estimated shortage of 29,000 child care spaces in the county. There is a lot of room for improvement.
Another exciting proposal is the plan to increase funding for family support services. These are the services designed to help families who are vulnerable because of poverty or other factors that put them at risk for maternal depression, poor academic outcomes for the children, or interaction with the child welfare system.
The Governor proposed to create a new home visiting program for first-time mothers who receive assistance through the CalWORKs program. If passed, this would be an important new program that would match new parents with trained professionals who would provide regular home visits on a voluntary basis. Home visiting programs have been shown to promote healthy child development and academic success, improve health outcomes, and support families’ economic security.
Again, the number of families who could benefit from this program is unclear at this stage. Home visiting programs operating today can only reach a tiny fraction of all the families who might benefit from them. Contra Costa Health Services’ Nurse Family Partnership program has reached over 300 families. Other programs operating in the county, including First 5 Contra Costa’s Welcome Home Baby, reach hundreds of other families. Without adequate funding, it’s no wonder these programs cannot meet the needs of the 15,000 Contra Costa children under age 6 who live in poverty.
The Governor’s budget makes it clear that early childhood advocates, who have been telling the Administration for years about the need to prioritize children, have made an impression. Given the big needs of our young children, the Governor’s proposals highlighted here are welcome, though they will not suffice. The administration and legislature need to keep their eyes on the many complex and critical needs of our children in this and every budget cycle.
Sarah Crow is First 5 Contra Costa’s Strategic Information and Planning Manager
2017 brought new challenges for many families in our community. Expanded deportation policies and an intensified anti-immigrant climate left families feeling anxious and afraid. We responded quickly in significant ways to help both families and the agencies that serve them. Many turned to the First 5 Centers for help, where they found immigration workshops, counseling, and trustworthy information.
The three Regional Groups we sponsor took action as well. Together with their partners, they successfully advocated for 6 safe haven/sanctuary policies at city councils and school districts throughout Contra Costa County. We joined them in pressing the Contra Costa County Board of Supervisors to approve funding for the county’s first rapid response program, which will soon provide legal assistance and reliable information to immigrant residents.
We held a successful forum for 175 local service providers featuring child development experts, attorneys, and advocates who provided the latest information on immigration policies and rights, the detrimental impact mass deportation policies have on children and families, tips for easing children’s fears, and resources to fight discriminatory detention practices in Contra Costa County.
These are issues we never thought we’d be tackling a year ago. But we found new ways to support families and bring light to their needs, as First 5 has done for nearly two decades.
2018 marks the 20th anniversary of Proposition 10, the ballot initiative that created First 5 in California. We’ve been responding to the needs of Contra Costa’s vulnerable children and families since then, and will continue to advocate and take action for kids in significant ways in the year ahead.
Look for improved services and outreach for African American families, a new curriculum on early childhood trauma, results from our first countywide kindergarten readiness assessment, expanded First 5 Center services, in addition to the many effective programs we regularly support.
Despite the challenges, or maybe because of them, First 5 is ready to act, and ready to lead. All children deserve to grow up safe, nurtured, ready for school, and able to pursue their dreams.
Sean Casey is the Executive Director at First 5 Contra Costa
Well, we’re one for one!
Last week, Governor Brown signed AB435 (Thurmond), which will provide much needed relief to subsidized child care systems in Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma Counties, where the high-cost of doing business leaves many providers struggling to keep their doors open, and many low-income families without quality child care for their children.
AB435 was our first time co-sponsoring legislation. What a great start as we develop our growing role as a pro-active advocacy organization.
AB435 will provide Contra Costa, Marin and Sonoma Counties with more flexibility in using state-allocated child care subsidy funds for low-income children. The current system, which undercompensates Bay Area child care providers and underserves low-income children, results in millions of dollars in child care subsidies returned to the state. Combined, the three counties returned $4.5 million in 2015.
Now because of the bill, by 2019, subsidy programs in these counties will have the flexibility to increase income eligibility guidelines and serve more children, offer higher reimbursement rates to providers, and contract with programs that can fully use available subsidies.
We were proud to work on AB435 with Assemblymember Thurmond and the Contra Costa County Office of Education. We are also incredibly grateful to our many partners who supported this bill and helped push it over the finish line. We’ll be working hard over the next several months to develop our plan for implementing the bill.
AB435 will be a powerful tool for Bay Area early learning systems to ensure that every dollar allocated is spent and as many children as possible get the high-quality child care experience they deserve.
The Trump administration’s heartless decision to roll back DACA will harm children and families.
About a quarter of DACA recipients, 800,000 young adults whose parents brought them to the U.S. as children, live in California. Since 2012, DACA, or the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, has provided recipients with work permits, the ability to go to college, and most important, protection from deportation.
These young Dreamers contribute to our schools, churches, cities, and communities. They’re our colleagues, neighbors, and friends. About 25% are parents to U.S. born children, and over half have U.S. citizen brothers or sisters.
The Trump administration has placed this successful program, and thousands of futures, in jeopardy.
The anxiety surrounding a family’s immigration status can be detrimental to the health and development of children. A recent study found that when parents received DACA status, it significantly improved their children’s mental health almost immediately. Simply put: children had less stress and anxiety when their parents no longer feared being deported.
The current administration’s immigration crackdown has eroded these gains for children. Reversing DACA will only exacerbate this.
All children deserve to have safe, secure childhoods. They should not live in fear that their parents or siblings will be taken away at any moment, or be further traumatized when a loved one is deported, leaving many in sudden poverty.
DACA is admittedly an imperfect, short-term solution to a much larger need for comprehensive immigration reform. But it is also the most compassionate path for “those who believe in their hearts and in their minds that they are American” as President Obama said when he created DACA in 2012. We hope our leaders will stand up for DACA so that all children are supported in safe, nurturing families and communities.
Sean Casey, Executive Director, First 5 Contra Costa
Last week, the House of Representatives passed the American Health Care Act, which would cut Medicaid considerably and allow insurance companies to charge people with preexisting conditions significantly more for coverage.
Some estimate that Medicaid, called Medi-Cal in California, will experience $800 billion in cuts over 10 years if this bill is enacted. Since children make up the proportion of Medicaid enrollees, it’s likely they will bear the brunt of these cuts.
Medi-Cal is a critical support for young children and their families in California. Half of the state’s children, about 5.8 million children, receive health care from Medi-Cal, and one in four Contra Costa residents receive these benefits.