Millions of low-income working families could miss out on up to $953 from the federal government this year if they don't file federal income tax returns, a public policy group warned Tuesday.

Parents who earned less than $20,264 last year and have children living with them are eligible for the money under the government's Earned Income Credit program, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said.Working parents can receive the credit by filing federal income tax returns, even if they earned too little to owe income tax.

Those who don't owe tax will get a check from the Internal Revenue Service in the amount of their credit. Those who do owe tax will be able to reduce or eliminate the amount owed.

Many eligible families are unaware of the earned income credit, and may fail to file an income tax return because they earned too little to owe federal income tax, said Scott Barancik, who is coordinating a nationwide outreach campaign on the credit for the Center.

"If they don't file, they risk losing up to $953," he said.

The April 15 deadline does not apply to taxpayers who earn too little to owe income tax, Barancik said. They can file, and thereby obtain the credit, at any time.

Nearly 12 million families received the credit for tax year 1989, obtaining some $6.7 billion in benefits.

Most working families with children who earn between $6,000 and $12, 000 now qualify for a credit of more than $800.

"But some eligible families are missing out on the (credit)," Barancik said. "Recent research suggests that nearly 2 million eligible low income working families may be failing to receive payments they have earned."