Money In Your Pocket
There have been many happy returns resulting from the Department of Human Services’ participation in the Money In Your Pocket free tax help program. Most notably, there’s the number of people assisted in filing their 2012 federal tax returns by volunteers working under the aegis of DHS.
Volunteers filed 323 returns from the program’s Human Services Building site, one of four DHS tax assistance locations set up around the county. That’s more than double the number of returns done last year. Most are filed electronically.
John Litz, Planner for the DHS Office of Community Services, is pleased with the stats and the department’s participation in Money In Your Pocket.
Most income tax returns resulted from volunteer preparers discovering if clients could claim an Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The credit reduces the amount of taxes owed by filers to the federal government.
Fifty-two percent of clients who filed with the help of DHS volunteers at the Human Services Building were able to claim the tax credit. Of the $488,575 in refunds recorded at that location, $234,089 was claimed in earned income credits. Participants had an annual adjusted gross income of $11,890
Although the credit has been around for years, awareness of it hasn’t been high, said John.
He says the credit is an important tool for those who deliver human services, and increasing awareness of it is important.
“For some people, this is the first time they’ve claimed EITC,” John said. “It’s a huge windfall.”
Some filers end up getting as much as half of their yearly income in returns by claiming the credit. It is mostly used by low- and moderate-income wage earners, especially those with children.
“It’s one of the most effective anti-poverty strategies,” John said, citing how the tax credit might allow someone to buy a car to get to a job they might otherwise could not take, or set up a savings account for emergencies.
“For a working mother, all of a sudden, she’s in a better position to do something for herself or her children,” he added.
“We’re glad we’re part of the effort.”
That effort is overseen by the United Way of Allegheny County Money In Your Pocket Coalition, of which DHS is a part. Others in the coalition are the Allegheny Valley Coalition of Churches, Just Harvest and the two ‘Y’s of Greater Pittsburgh – the YMCA and YWCA. All operate sites at various places in the county as part of the local effort for the IRS’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program.
Along with assistance available at the Downtown location, DHS worked with North Hills Community Outreach to operate a site at Allegheny General Hospital Suburban Outpatient Center in Bellevue, with St. Athanasius Parish to operate a site at their Community center in West View, and with the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches to operate a site at their offices in Natrona Heights.
The numbers for those sites also show strong activity in Money In Your Pocket.
In Bellevue, volunteers filed returns for 33 people, with $20,410 in EIT credits claimed and a total of $45,832 in federal tax returns.
In Natrona Heights, volunteers filed 68 federal returns, with a total of $70,353 in EIT credits claimed. Total tax refunds is $123,850.
Totals in West View were lower, because of a larger senior citizen population. Volunteers filed 69 federal returns, with a $2,244 in EIT credits claimed. Total tax refund is $26,981.
The number of volunteers tells a success story as well, said John. Last year there were 11 volunteers at the Downtown site. This year the number increased to 20.
“We had quite a few volunteers who were eager to return,” John said.
Frank Grande, an accountant, supervised the volunteers at the Human Services Building. He said the hours and location were convenient to people who dropped in after work or took public transit.
“We were pretty much solid every night,” said Frank.
John praised the folks who operated the satellite sites, including Tracey Burton, supervisor at Allegheny Valley Association of Churches. “They really stepped up to the plate this year.”
John and Frank said the quality and training of volunteers are important for reasons that include efficiency and the DHS mission, which is to help.
Frank said clients sometimes come to Money In Your Pocket with returns completed, but are anxious to make sure their paperwork is correct.
“The comfort is, all volunteers are trained,” Frank said. “There’s the comfort, too, that if there’s any problem, we will work with the clients.”
Some clients simply do not know how to e-file, and some don’t have access to computers. Still others, because of their limited income, cannot afford to pay accountants or tax service companies.
“We get so many people saying tax preparation fees have gone up,” said Frank.
“There’s not a lot of household income to start with,” John added. Money in Your Pocket lives up to its name: “Everything you’re getting back will go in your pocket.”
For more information, please vist the United Way of Allegheny County Money In Your Pocket program webpage.
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