Cindy Parr: Successes mark tax assistance program

Human Services Programs of Carroll County offer more than 20 programs that serve the County's low-income and at-risk population. About 9,500 individuals receive assistance through our agency to better their lives and make the necessary linkages that will move them out of poverty.
One program in particular that directly affects this goal is the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, or VITA program. VITA is a program that is geared toward low-income and at-risk families who need tax assistance but cannot pay the fee normally charged for preparation.
Through our Opportunity WORKS program, IRS-trained VITA preparers work with families to help them receive the best tax advice for their specific circumstances. This is important as tax returns are usually high for low income families due to the Earned Income Tax Credit. The Earned Income Tax Credit is one of the nation's largest anti-poverty tools. It provides low- to moderate-income households a refundable tax credit, which can sometimes be worth over $5,000 to families. A return of this amount can provide a significant incentive to work.
The EITC offers multiple advantages, especially for single mothers. In the 1990s, expansions of the EITC moved half a million families from welfare to work. In 2011, the EITC and Child Tax Credit lifted 8.7 million people out of poverty.
Studies show that children in families receiving tax credits were more likely to attend college and earn additional income as adults. Probably its most notable statistic is that the EITC generates at least $1.50 in local economic activity for every $1 spent.
Typically, low-income and at-risk individuals are not able to readily access information or participate in discussions about financial stability and security. Tax time provides the perfect opportunity for preparers to engage taxpayers and open the door to talks about saving money, paying off bills and creating a budget going forward.
During tax season, HSP VITA preparers work with PNC Bank to provide free direct deposit and financial education workshops. Attendees learn about the importance of having a bank account, saving money and paying their bills on time.
At tax time, these discussions are timely, as financial planning is directly associated with the expectation of a tax return. For many clients, this is the first time they experience any type of assistance or education on how to handle their finances.
We are proud of our many partnerships at HSP. We are especially proud of the many partners we have in our VITA program.
This past year Opportunity WORKS completed its fourth year of income tax preparation. Some of the statistics associated with this program are noteworthy.
They include 451 tax returns completed for 2012, which was a 35 percent increase from 2012 (334 returns); $956,928 was returned to low- to moderate-income workers, a 41 percent increase over 2012 ($280,052); 56 percent of clients were new to VITA, 44 percent returning; 11 percent of our taxpayers purchased savings bonds and 47 households purchased $7,700 in tax time savings bonds; the program experienced a significant increase in PNC direct deposit refund cards. Seventy PNC cards were distributed, which was a 71 percent increase in one year; 12 volunteers provided 665 hours of service; the average taxpayer income was $18,150; and the program was recognized for the third year in a row by the Maryland Cash Campaign for selling the most savings bonds statewide
HSP is especially proud of this program and the incredible benefits it offers our clients

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