Credit: George Danby

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Flavia Debrito is the Credit to Kids Organizer at Maine Equal Justice.

In June, the State of Maine began sending  $850 relief checks to an estimated 858,000 people. Many Maine families are still struggling to make ends meet in an unpredictable economy, and we have seen firsthand that these payments are making a big difference.

At pop-up events, in people’s homes, and through online tax filing tools, Maine Equal Justice and many others are working to connect low-income Mainers with free tax filing services so they can claim their $850 check as well as other credits they may have missed out on. That’s how we’ve ended up with a front row seat to the vast good a little more income can do. It’s time more people understood why direct income support is the right policy to create opportunity and dignity for everyone.

Many of the Mainers who come to our pop-up events are moms with young kids. They don’t have enough income to be required to file a tax return, so when they come in to claim credits they are eligible for, like the expanded 2021 Child Tax Credit, they often don’t realize they’re eligible for even more help, like the earned income tax credit, rental credits, stimulus checks, and now the state $850 relief payment. One mom found that she was eligible for around $5,000 in unclaimed tax credits. She is living with her daughter in a temporary hotel room and told us, “This is going to help me get out of this hotel and get my life back together.”

We’ve also had the privilege to help a large variety of Mainers file to claim what they’re owed, including Mainers with disabilities, older Mainers, people who are unhoused, people who face language barriers, and moms and dads alike.

The fact that the $850 checks and other tax credits can be used for whatever families need it for – not what someone else thinks they need – is what makes it so helpful. Extra income can be ( and often is) used to pay for things like food, gas, and rent, or to fix the roof or repair their car.  

Many of the existing programs designed to help with basic needs like food, medical care, and housing – while critical – are difficult to access.

People in poverty say, and a growing body of research affirms, that direct cash payments are one of the most effective ways to improve short and long-term wellbeing and to provide financial stability for people who most need it. Economic security policies that get more cash to families make a huge difference in the health and wellbeing of individuals, families, and communities. The impact of these policies are especially important for children because stability in early life has long-term physical and mental health implications.

It’s heartening to see these $850 checks as part of a trend towards improving economic security through direct payments, as we saw with the expanded federal Child Tax Credit and recent expansions of the state and federal Earned Income Tax Credit, as well as the state Property Tax Fairness Credit. Together, these federal and state tax refunds can be worth thousands of dollars for Maine families and individuals.

Every family deserves the chance to thrive and find opportunities for themselves and their kids. No matter their age, race, or where they come from, everyone in Maine should be able to live with dignity. Policies that put income in the hands of those who need it most support these goals and so much more, which is why our congressional delegation needs to do all they can to pass legislation that will  make the Child Tax Credit improvements for 2021 permanent and refundable. We also encourage Maine lawmakers to strengthen and expand existing state tax credits, as well as ensure Maine people of all backgrounds can actually access them.

Anyone who needs help filing their taxes can go to to start an online return and get local help finishing it. Go to for more information about the $850 checks.