Guest Column: Keeping more of what you earn- EITC

Serving on the board of the Foundation for the Mid South, I have seen firsthand the challenges facing Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana in education, health, and social and economic opportunity.  We constantly look at ways to help our region grow and prosper, and how we can help our people and communities help themselves. So with tax season upon us, we ask, “What would a few extra million dollars do for our area?  What about an additional $1.5 billion for our state?”  There is a way to do this and it is already available to working families in Tunica and the nation: the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
The EITC is a federal tax credit that every working low-income family can claim on their tax return, allowing them to get back an average of $2,600 of their earnings.  This is money that can be used to start or grow a savings account for a rainy day or to pay down debt.  Regardless of how it is used, the tax credit allows families to keep more of what they earn and injects extra cash into local economies.

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Each year, over 600,000 eligible Mississippi residents lose out on approximately $1.5 billion from their tax returns because they did not claim the EITC credit.   One way to change this is to make sure people in our community know what it is.  First, tax filers have to be employed; the tax credit is not a hand-out.  For instance, low-wage working families earning less than $40,000 are eligible. Secondly, there are no additional requirements or forms to make it difficult to file. The EITC credit is included in the form 1040—pretty easy, right?
What can we do in Tunica?  Spread the word.  There are dozens of websites like http://www.eitc.irs.gov/central/publications/ where we can print posters to display in our places of worship, libraries, or offices and envelope stuffers to send out to employees, organization members, or mailing lists. This Friday the 28th is national EITC Awareness day, and it is a great opportunity to get the word out about the credit.
Awareness is a good first step, but we need more people to take action and claim the EITC on their taxes.  People may need a little help getting started.  Each year, Mississippians pay $74 million to tax preparers.  What if low-wage workers could file for free and keep an average of $250 in their pockets? Well, they can.  Local churches, banks, community centers, and libraries are just a few places in communities that offer free tax preparation services.  Find other Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites by visiting http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=233777,00.html or calling the IRS at 1-800-906-9887. For example, here in Tunica, some of the places people can file taxes for free are the R.C. Irwin Public Library, (662) 363-2162, and Tunica WIN JOB Center, 662-363-2764.
The Foundation for the Mid South is committed to increasing awareness of the EITC and access to VITA sites throughout the region. Imagine the financial impact to our families, businesses, and communities if an additional $1.5 billion was brought into our state, just through claiming a credit on tax returns.  We can do this, but we need your help.  
Take a few moments to spread the word about EITC and post a listing of the free sites at your job, on your blog or website, or make an announcement at your place of worship or your next civic club meeting. Whether you’re eligible for the EITC or not, whole communities benefit from the tax credit.  When a town can bring in a few extra million dollars each year, that’s a whole lot of change.
The Foundation for the Mid South is a regional foundation dedicated to improving lives by expanding knowledge in Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The Foundation seeks to increase opportunity for residents and communities by supporting and strengthening the knowledge and skills of organizations and individuals working to bring about change. The Foundation supports efforts that ensure high-quality education; promote physical and mental health; build financial security; and enable communities to grow and prosper. For more information about the Foundation for the Mid South, visit fndmidsouth.org.

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