As a little girl, pediatrician Lucy Marcil knew she wanted to be a doctor. The human body fascinated her, having studied its shapes and discrepancies with her archeologist mother. But she was a sensitive child, she says, and her deep concern for others is what led her down an unconventional career path.
The idea came to them when they began asking patients about their financial situations.
They discovered that their pediatric patients who suffered from poverty had a higher rate of poor brain development and early death, yet families who collected the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)—a $500 to $6,500 credit given to low-to-moderate income families after tax filing—saw mental and physical health benefits. Marcil and Hole began doing research.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute, tax credits improve infant and maternal health. Not only is the mother’s stress reduced, babies are less likely to be born prematurely or have low birth weights.
There’s just one problem though: 20% of taxpayers do not apply for EITC and most families pay anywhere from $100 to $300 on tax preparation. Not only that, many struggling families might not find the time to file or feel that the process is overwhelming. It was after one patient asked if Dr. Hole could do her taxes that they came up with the idea for StreetCred.
In three short years, StreetCred has made remarkable strides.
In the 2016 and 2017 tax season, StreetCred’s team of trained tax assistants returned over $1.6 million to 700 families with 450 children.
They’ve also piloted helping families apply for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, Head Start and Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and hope to add savings accounts, housing subsidies, child support and health insurance to the list.
But this isn’t a ragtag operation of doctors-turned-accountants. Volunteers must be trained through the IRS’ VITA program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance), a certification process that allows volunteers to offer free tax services to low-to-moderate income families.
“I’ve done that certification process myself a couple times,” says Marcil. “It’s certainly rigorous. You have to understand how to file taxes. It’s limited in scope in that they’re not trying to teach you how to be an accountant…it’s focused more on issues and the types of tax returns relevant to [low-to-moderate income families].”
Since developing StreeCred and seeing the positive change it’s had on families, Marcil believes up-and-coming doctors would fare well to learn more about their patients’ financial standing.
“A lot of doctors experience burnout because people come back—over and over again—for the same medical problem, but the underlying root cause is often related to poverty. Medical school doesn’t train you for that,” says Marcil.
“That was what really pushed us to think we have to come up with something because [poverty] is really making our patients sick.”
Being poor is one of the biggest determinants to one’s health. According to the World Health Organization, “Higher income and social status are linked to better health. The greater the gap between the richest and poorest people, the greater the differences in health.” Whether or not you have access to adequate housing, transportation, quality food, education or healthcare plays a major role in your health.
What started in one clinic in Boston is now making waves in nine sites in four states.
“It really increases your ability to reach a larger audience,” says Marcil. “[It helps] people know about your work, and to find collaborators, people who are interested for all sorts of different reasons—either working with you or providing financial support.”
As StreetCred continues to grow, Marcil is doing what she loves most—being a pediatrician. But now she can help her patients in more ways that she ever could have imagined.
Learn more about StreetCred and their life-changing work here.
Watch Dr. Marcil’s inspiring TED Talk here.
Read more about how poverty effects health here.
Author: Lauren Modery
Freelance writer; co-wrote and co-produced Loves Her Gun which premiered at SXSW ’13; used to be a Hollywood assistant; learn more about her work at http://hipstercrite.com
Interviewer: Jared Talavera
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