February 20, 2017

Tax-assistance programs and tax credits boost economy [Herald-Tribune]

This post was last updated on December 8, 2021. As new policies are announced, FPI will update this page.

As Florida’s response to COVID-19 takes front and center, concern grows for low-income families who struggle to take precautions against the spread of the virus. Although Congress has passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to address, at least in part,  the public health crisis and economic fallout from COVID-19, many barriers continue to keep struggling families from accessing the assistance they need during the pandemic. As Florida initiates policies implementing the Act and addressing other barriers to the safety net, FPI will update this form. When available, hyperlinks are provided to agency documents or statements that provide greater detail  about the new policy.

On March 22, 2020, FPI and 44 other organizations sent a letter to Governor DeSantis, leadership in the Legislature and agency heads to urge action on 47 specific policy changes to reduce unnecessary barriers for Florida’s safety net programs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter here.

Imagine finding an unexpected letter from the Internal Revenue Service in your mailbox stating that you owe them thousands of dollars. You are already walking a financial tightrope. What are you supposed to do now?

Susan in Sarasota found such a letter (Susan is not her real name). She called 2-1-1 (the social-services help line), which referred her to United Way Suncoast’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

United Way volunteers reviewed her tax returns, and discovered several years’ worth of errors.

After amending five years of tax returns, Susan received another letter from the IRS — this time informing her that she no longer owed, but rather was to receive almost $3,000 in refunds.

Suddenly, a burden had been lifted. Susan has returned to United Way Suncoast for her tax filing ever since.

There are thousands of stories similar to Susan’s in our community. Filing a simple tax return can cost low-income families several hundred dollars — the equivalent of a month’s grocery bill or a sorely needed car repair.

In 2016, 13,161 tax returns were prepared free of charge by IRS-certified volunteers in Manatee, Sarasota and Desoto counties — saving low-income families $2.6 million in tax preparation fees.

Our mission is not only to save low-income families money, but also to ensure they receive all the tax credits they deserve.

One-in-five eligible Florida taxpayers do not claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, leaving $1.1 billion on the table. In Sarasota and Manatee counties, this translates into $26.1 million each year going unclaimed.

Our VITA program also focuses on higher-education credits like the American Opportunity Credit, a tax credit to support post-secondary tuition expenses for low-to-moderate-income families. An estimated additional $5.1 million in Sarasota and Manatee goes unclaimed in higher-education credits each year.

Read more on heraldtribune.com

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