Statistics show that many low-income Oregon tax filers are not taking advantage of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit. The credit goes to low-wage workers in an effort to move them toward middle-class status. 

Oregon is last in participation. 

The average national EITC was $2,119 for 2014, the latest year that full statistics are available. About $124 million a year goes unclaimed. 

The credit is refundable, which means that it gets paid out to households that don’t even owe taxes. But to get the credit, households must fill out a tax return.

Oregon has a state earned income tax credit that adds 8 percent of the federal refund into the pockets of low-income wage earners. “We need to increase awareness and the percentage of refundability,” says Matt Cato, director of the Office of Life, Justice and Peace for the Archdiocese of Portland. 

The U.S. Catholic bishops have asked dioceses to spread word about the credit as one way to decrease poverty among U.S. families.  

Catholic Charities of Oregon helps low-income households manage finances, and during tax time urges application for the EITC. It takes one additional form. 

“Most clients at Catholic Charities fall into the category and could get the Earned Income Tax Credit,” says Molly O’Donnell, director of the agency’s Family Success Center. “It’s the one time of year those families get a cash infusion.”

Catholic Charities refers clients to CASH Oregon or its own Spanish-language VITA program for free tax preparation. Experts there make sure those who qualify for the credit get it.