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Credits where credits are due

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There are free services available to help taxpayers understand their eligibility for the EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) and CTC (Child Tax Credit).

Debbie
Rambo

The United States Catholic Conference of Bishops (USCCB) annually mounts a campaign to raise awareness about both the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). According to Census Bureau data, last year the EITC and the Child Tax Credit combined to lift 5 million children out of poverty, making them the most potent tool the government has for fighting child poverty.

As the USCCB explains, these powerful antipoverty initiatives deliver critical income to support to millions of workers in low-wage jobs. Claiming these tax credits puts families on the path to securing better housing, pursuing quality education, obtaining dependable transportation, covering out of pocket health care costs or paying for quality childcare.

According to national estimates, 20 to 25 percent of eligible workers do not claim their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) benefits. That means millions of dollars are not finding their way into the pockets of the working families and individuals who have earned that money. As a result, they are going without the income boost they could be getting to help them keep their jobs and care for their families.

As described by the campaign, the EITC is a tax benefit for working people who earn lower or moderate incomes. It has several important purposes: to offset taxes, to supplement very low wages, and to provide a work incentive. The EITC can offset some or all of the taxes workers must pay, such as payroll taxes, and can help cover any federal income tax workers may still owe at tax time. Besides offsetting taxes, workers earning lower wages may also get cash back through the EIC refund. Workers who qualify for the EITC and claim it on their federal tax return can receive a refund from the IRS even if their earnings were too small to owe income tax.

There are free services available to help taxpayers understand their eligibility for the EITC and CTC. VITA -- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance -- is a program run by the IRS in conjunction with community based organizations. VITA volunteers are trained, according to IRS guidelines, to fill out basic tax forms including the ones needed to claim the EIC and the CTC.

There is no charge for VITA services, which are often available at local community action agencies, churches, libraries, public assistance offices, shopping malls, community colleges, and other public places. VITA sites are generally open from late January through April 15, although hours may be limited. This link www.masscap.org/pdfs/vita.pdf is one way to find a VITA site in your community--checking in with your local library is another way to access a list of VITA sites.

Throughout the month of March, every Thursday morning at the Catholic Charities Yawkey Center in Dorchester, a group of tax advisors volunteer their services to assist in tax filing. These volunteers are part of the AARP Foundation Tax-Aide, another program available free to taxpayers with low and moderate income, with special attention to those 60 and older. The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide explains that more than 40 years, the program, run in cooperation with the IRS, has assisted low to moderate income individuals taxpayers have more discretionary income for everyday essentials, such as food and housing by assisting with tax services and ensuring that folks receive applicable tax credits and deductions.

If you are new to the work force or a worker who may not have been eligible in the past, but may now qualify because your employment situation changed or because you have a new child; if you are a foster parent, a grandparent raising grandchildren, serving in the military, or are the parents of children with disabilities--you may qualify. And if you are a worker who was eligible for the credits in the past but did not claim them, you can file for the credit up to three years back and receive the refund you missed out on.

Having professionally trained tax advisor assistance can make a big difference in accessing the tax relief so many are entitled to. Whether you come to the Catholic Charities Yawkey Center or go to a VITA tax preparer, I encourage you to learn more about the EITC and the CTC this tax season.

Go to www.ccab.org to learn more about our work.

DEBORAH KINCADE RAMBO IS PRESIDENT OF CATHOLIC CHARITIES OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

Deborah Kincade Rambo is president of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Boston.

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