GUEST BLOG POST BY ENTERPRISE COMMUNITY PARTNERS…
Our nation is filled with strivers who pay their taxes, play by the rules, and work hard for a shot at the American Dream. But for too many of them hard work isn’t enough.
Free tax preparation is the gateway to financial stability for thousands of these working families. Most low and moderate income families are eligible for a tax refund, and for many, their largest source of income all year. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is largely responsible for making tax time so crucial. The EITC is the largest poverty relief program in the country, primarily aimed at helping families with children provide basic needs and save for the future. What’s more, free tax preparation increases tax compliance by encouraging families to file their taxes on time and accurately. More than one-fifth of eligible EITC filers do not claim the credit or do so incorrectly. Free tax preparation not only helps with EITC claims and accurate returns but it also provides an entry point for families to meet with a professional, financial counselor, become better banked, determine eligibility for public assistance, and other financially based services.
In Cuyahoga County, Enterprise Community Partners, United Way of Greater Cleveland, Cleveland Neighborhood Progress, Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, and many more organizations form the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition. The Coalition provides free tax preparation services, conducted by IRS-certified tax preparation volunteers, to over 14,000 community members each year at 25 locations across Cuyahoga County.
THE COALITION IS COMMITTED TO DELIVERING:
Community Awareness – by creating sufficient knowledge in the community about eligibility for the EITC and other financial and government benefits to reach everyone who qualifies.
Easy Access – by ensuring everyone eligible for Coalition services has the opportunity to obtain them quickly and simply, resulting in the avoidance of costly transaction fees and other expenses.
Financial Empowerment – by providing recipients of tax preparation services the chance to engage in sound financial practices that build economic security and allow households to achieve the goals they themselves set.
Consumer Protection – by delivering financially based services to low-and-moderate income workers that are free of predatory interference.
Economic Development – by offering a service that helps low-and-moderate income workers claim the earned income tax credit resulting in millions of dollars being spent in local economies.
Since joining forces and leveraging each member’s strengths and assets, the positive impact of the Coalition has grown each and every year. To date, over 86,000 clients have been served by the Coalition, resulting in more than $118 million refunds. In total, the Coalition returns $30 to the local economy for every $1 spent on Coalition program costs.
SO, WHAT CAN YOU AND YOUR ORGANIZATION DO TO HELP?
SPEAK UP! The EITC is among our nation’s strongest tools to promote work and help families build a secure future. They’ve been linked to reductions in poverty, higher employment rates, healthier mothers and babies, better grade-school performance, and an increased likelihood that more students will graduate from college – rightfully earning bipartisan support. Without them, it will be harder for working families to pay for things like housing, child care, and transportation that support their ability to work, causing millions of their children to fall into poverty. In our state, the credits lifted 162,000 children and 289,000 Ohioans overall out of poverty. We need to remind our lawmakers (call or write them) of what’s at stake without their ongoing support of these tax credits for working families.
VOLUNTEER! The Coalition is always looking for volunteer site coordinators, tax preparers, site greeters, and interpreters. Prior experience is not necessary, just attend a Coalition-led training to become an IRS-certified volunteer. Sign up today by visiting refundohio.org.
SPREAD THE WORD! According to data from the Census Bureau and the Brookings Institute, there are nearly 141,000 households in Cuyahoga County that may be eligible for the EITC. That means there may be as many as 18,000 eligible households who may not be claiming the credit. In addition, 48,499 of those claiming the EITC last year used a paid tax preparer and 49,593 of those purchased some form of refund anticipation product whose fees reduced the EITC benefit to their clients. Help us spread the word about the Coalition! Dial 2-1-1 today to make your appointment.