Earned Income Tax Credit & Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Sites

Tax season is upon us and free tax sites, VITA sites, have opened their doors. This year several tax credits have been expanded to help put as much as $6,000 in the pockets of low-income working families. In particular, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) are powerful resources for working people with low incomes.

In 2008, 24 million claimed over $49 billion in EITC credit. The 2009 tax year marks a new year with the American Recover and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) which created many new tax policies. Several tax credits have been increased including EITC and the CTC.

Two new credits will put more money in the hands of low-income families including the Making Work Pay Credit and the New American Opportunity Credit which helps low income workers pay for college. With new and existing tax opportunities many more people will quality for benefits than in previous years. To find out more information on EITC visit EITC Central.

Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are IRS sponsored programs that offer low-income working families (joint income under $49,000) free tax preparation. VITA sites are located across the country and are available so that low-income individuals do not have to pay for tax preparation or purchase products such as Refund Anticipation Loans (RALs). RALs are high-interest loans designed to give tax filers a “quick refund.” RAL interest rates have been reported up to 500% and can ultimately cost the tax filer hundreds if not thousands of dollars. To help protect your clients from these predatory practices encourage them to have their taxes prepared for free at a local VITA site. To find the closest VITA site call: 1-800-906-9887 or visit http://www.irs.gov/individuals/article/0,,id=107626,00.html. New Jersey residents can also access tax assistance sites at the 2-1-1 website to get a list of free tax preparation sites.

With all of the credits available for working families it is critical to promote tax assistance. Over the next several months it is vital to inform your clients about these tax credits and free tax assistance. By visiting the National Tax Credit Outreach Campaign website you will be able to print or order free flyers, posters, handouts, and access to an outreach strategy guide.

Source: Welfare Peer Technical Assistance Network

WorkPAYS – A Great Employment Program

Several weeks ago the state rolled out a new employment program targeted at TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) households and New Jersey employers. It is the best program to come along in a long, long time. So if you are receiving cash assistance for yourself and your family please read on. If you work for a nonprofit read on and tell your clientele.

The Department of Labor and Workforce Development has created a subsidized employment program for Work First New Jersey TANF clients. The goal of the program is to create jobs for TANF clients that may become permanent or provide work experience that will lead to an unsubsidized job with a different employer. Under the state guidelines WorkPAYS will reimburse employers 100% of the hourly wages for a period of six months. The program is time-limited. It begins March 1 and ends September 30, 2010.

TANF clients should contact their Work First New Jersey Case Manager for more details and to receive a “Dear Employer” letter which they can present to prospective employers. Interested employers would be contacted by Department of Labor and Workforce Development (LWD) personnel.

Additional information to job seekers is available online on the LWD website.

Work pays.

Energy Assistance Tips

The application period to apply for home heating assistance is now half over as the application period is November 1 through April 30, 2010. There have been a few things that should have been presented earlier but better late than never. Let me try to keep this short and to the point. Here are a few things you probably didn’t know.

1. Instead of calling the local application agency to inquire about a LIHEAP application (for example in Union County the local agency is PROCEED) there is a statewide LIHEAP hotline number that applicants and food stamp clients can call instead of calling the local agency which just makes them take time out from processing hundreds of applications. The hotline number – which by the way is open on SATURDAY’s – is 800-510-3102.
2. USF portability is probably a term you never heard about. Portable can be defined as carried or moved with ease. In energy assistance terms, when a utility customer who is receiving USF benefits moves to a new address, their USF eligibility can be re-evaluated by a phone call to the utility. The customer tells the customer service rep they are receiving USF benefits but they are moving to a new address. The company will evaluate the energy usage at the new address and then the state of New Jersey will determine eligibility for USF at their new location. A simple phone call. Portability.
3. Every year the staff at NJ211 compile an energy guide. The 36 page 2009-2010 publication titled New Jersey Guide to Meeting Basic Utility Needs gives useful information on programs and agencies.

You can also access the New Jersey Community Resources energy assistance programs webpage which contains an eligibility chart of various programs and links to forms. If you have other useful energy assistance tips or information let me know.