As CT child tax rebate hits deadline, city and town rates vary widely

Photo of Julia Bergman
Mark Boughton, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, in March 2022 in Danbury, Conn.

Mark Boughton, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Revenue Services, in March 2022 in Danbury, Conn.

H John Voorhees III / Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

As the Sunday deadline nears for Connecticut families to sign up for a state tax rebate worth $250 per child, the Department of Revenue Services is seeing a rush of applications.

But it appears certain that thousands of households will not claim their state checks of as much as $750, as state data shows uptake varying widely among cities and towns.

More than 11,000 tax filers applied for the credit in a 24-hour period Thursday, DRS said. As of that day, the state had received applications from more than 200,000 households on behalf of 311,513 children.

State officials estimate that more than 300,000 Connecticut households with about 400,000 children qualify for the rebates — those who have dependents 18 or under as of Dec. 31, 2021, and meet income requirements of $200,000 for couples and $100,000 for single parents.

Click here for information and applications to the program.

Data provided by the state showing a breakdown of applications by town, as of Tuesday, shows uptake is highest in middle-class towns and some of the poorer cities.

Bridgeport and Hartford topped the list with the highest number of applications at nearly 10,000 each — but the two cities differed significantly in the percent of their households applying for the program.

In Bridgeport, the state’s largest city, there are more than 15,000 households with children under 18, according to Census data analyzed and provided by the CT Data Collaborative. Using that measure, Hearst CTInsider calculated a 63 percent uptake in Bridgeport.

Hartford, by contrast, showed an 81 percent uptake as of Tuesday, using the DRS data for applications and the CT Data Collaborative data for households with children.

Rural towns had lower participation rates — although in many cases that was because their populations are too wealthy to qualify. The ten towns with the lowest number of applications are mainly in Litchfield County and include Cornwall, Scotland, Sharon, Canaan, Roxbury, Bridgewater, Colebrook, Warren, Norfolk, and Kent.

The median income for households with dependents in most of the towns at the bottom of the list is above $100,000. Darien, by some measures the state’s richest town, has a 5 percent application rate. That town is among six, all in lower Fairfield County, that show a median income “above $250,000” among households with children in the CT Data Collaborative numbers.

As the weekend approached, the race was on for the state and social service agencies to get the word out about what is essentially free money for anyone eligible who takes a few minutes to apply, based on their adjusted gross incomes.

The state tax agency said it was unable to send out checks automatically to those who qualify because it does not have up-to-date information on the ages of children in eligible households. Critics, including many Republicans and representatives from social service agencies, questioned whether the state could send out the checks, as they pointed to federal programs that pay automatically.

State officials also wanted to extend the deadline beyond this Sunday. Gov. Ned Lamont’s office looked into that possibility, but the statute as adopted by the General Assembly in May is clear — the deadline to apply is July 31 and can only be extended by the legislature, which is not now in session. The law also stipulates that eligible families must apply for the benefit.

The Hearst CTInsider calculations are not meant to show the percent of eligible households applying, as they show the percentage of all households with children — and they leave out families with eligible 18-year-olds, based on the available numbers from the CT Data Collaborative. Neither DRS nor other agencies was able to produce a tally of eligible households by city or town.

But the percentages show a comparison that points to conclusions. For example, New Britain and New London are both among the four poorest cities in the state as measured by median income of households with children — both are under $40,000. But while New Britain had an uptake in the program of 86 percent as of Tuesday, New London trailed, at 58 percent.

Could it be that New London has many more families over the income limit than New Britain, even as its median falls so low? The data doesn’t tell us that, but it seems likely New London is lagging.

Cornwall and Scotland residents submitted fewer than 20 applications each — with uptake at 13 percent in both places.

In Stratford, more than 2,900 families applied out of about 4,800 households with children under 18 - a participation rate of 61 percent. Uptake in Hamden was 59 percent with more than 3,200 applications received, and 35 percent in West Hartford where families submitted 2,565 applications.

Mark Boughton, the DRS commissioner and former longtime mayor of Danbury, said the state could not have sent out the checks without applications.

“Had the Democras given broad-based tax relief like an income tax reduction rather than cherry pick people to give money to, they wouldn’t be in a situation where they had to beg people to fill out a form,” said House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who said he has a child under 18 at home and applied for the rebate.

The Lamont administration and key lawmakers including Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, one of the architects of the benefit, have traversed the state in recent weeks holding a series of press conferences to get the word out. State officials have also relied on anti-poverty agencies and nonprofits that provide social services, which are already in touch with families who could be eligible, to do outreach.

The Connecticut Association for Community Action, a statewide network that works with lower income families, has about 5,000 kids through its child care programs. Executive director Deb Polun said the agency has near daily contact with the families of those children who its informed about the tax rebate, as well as clients it helps with energy and food assistance.

“Hopefully a lot more people will be applying in the last few days,” Polun said. “If they do it again next year, hopefully it would be automatic so people wouldn’t have to apply for it.”

Many people have also found out about the benefit through word of mouth, said Bianca Bowles, social media and community relations specialist at Community Action Agency of New Haven. She recalled a New Haven woman, whom the agency had previously helped with energy assistance, overhearing another person on the bus talking about the tax rebate.

The woman has three children under 18 and meets the income eligibility, Bowles said.

She came to an event last week in New Haven and while in line at a booth talking about the rebate another woman behind her found out she has one child who is eligible.

“After that conversation, they both were on their smartphones,” Bowles said.

To apply for the rebate online, go to https://egov.ct.gov/drschildrebateform/

julia.bergman@hearstmediact.com