One element of the Poverty Reduction Initiative in Census Tract 10.01 went into action Thursday, as teams from the nonprofit Reinvestment Partners hit the streets to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit.
“The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is sort of like that dollar bill laying on the sidewalk; it is there for the taking.,” said state Treasurer Janet Cowell, who joined the door-to-door canvassing.
“Letting people know this exists and working with them ... that is incredibly important right now,” she said.
The EITC is a federal program for low-income working people. The credit comes as a cash refund that can amount to thousands of dollars, but many eligible taxpayers do not apply for it.
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Informing residents of Tract 10.01 that the credit exists, and encouraging them to apply, is one of the steps the anti-poverty’s finance task force recommended, particularly working through Reinvestment Partners’ free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for low-income taxpayers.
“The EITC is ... not necessarily going to move them out (of poverty), but it’s certainly going to help,” Mayor Bill Bell said. “Persons who qualify, we certainly want to make sure they come in and take advantage of those services.”
Reinvestment Partners has done outreach on the EITC for years, said Peter Skillern, the Durham nonprofit’s director, but Thursday’s canvassing over a four-block area near the Holton Career and Resource Center on Driver Street was the start of a “place-based” concentration in the initiative’s target area.
“Our ability to dig down into one neighborhood and contribute to the mayor’s (poverty-reduction) efforts” is “a happy coincidence,” he said.
Besides offering free tax preparation and advice, Reinvestment Partners’ program offers tax preparation training – “a really marketable skill,” said assistant County Manager Drew Cummings, “so they can go out and sell themselves and continue putting money in their pockets.”
Cummings and Cowell were among several speakers at a press conference held before the canvassing teams set out. Karen Spain, a former VITA client who is now a tax preparer with the program, also spoke.
“I’m very happy to be back working,” said Spain. She said work has been sporadic since she was laid off aftter 15 years with a telecommunications company at the Research Triangle Park.
“I’m living paycheck to paycheck,” she said, and she is “ecstatic” when she receives her tax credit and is able to get ahead on some bills and put some money aside for future needs.
“I rely very, very much on that Earned Income Tax Credit,” Spain said. “I try to look ahead ... and just make sure I am put that money where it needs to be..”