Castor, local officials discuss Earned Income Tax Credit

01/10/11 Kate Bradshaw
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As tax season gets into full swing, tax preparers will hit the airwaves to tout their services. Some of these promise a speedy return on tax refunds – albeit at a high cost. Today local officials and nonprofits got together to highlight free tax preparation sites throughout Pinellas and a little-known thing called the Earned Income Tax Credit.

This year, the Internal Revenue Service says up to a quarter of those Americans eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit could miss out on up to $5,600 on their tax returns. Those who earn less than $48,000 qualify, and the size of the credit varies by factors like marital status and number of children. Laura Berkowitz is with the marketing and outreach committee of Pinellas County’s Wealth-Building Coalition. She said the credit plays a key role in battling poverty.

"The Earned Income Tax Credit has done more than any other federal program to raise more children out of poverty."

US Representative Kathy Castor has been a long-time advocate for the tax credit.

"We are all working to insure that the people of Pinellas County and throughout the Tampa Bay area get every penny put back into their wallets and their pocketbooks that they are entitled to."

Speaking in Largo today, she said a wide range of people qualify, and the credit, which could even be a refund for some, comes at a crucial time.

"Do you know folks who are working very hard but they don't make a lot? They're probably eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit. We've got to get the word out. Do you have children that are age 17 or younger? You're probably eligible for the Child Tax Credit. We've got to spread the word, that's money right back into their pockets. Do you have expenses for student loans? Are you a college student paying a lot in tuition? You probably qualify for significant tax relief and our families need it now more than ever."

St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster told the room, which was packed with local officials, accountants, and nonprofit employees, that they need to get the word out.

"My colleagues on the city council know that I hate TV cameras. I'm shy around them, but really today is more about all of these microphones that are sitting up here. Think about it. We all know about the Earned Income Tax Credit, and through these partnerships that are in this room, you're going to go out and this word is going to spread like wildfire. We've got banks, we've got tax preparers, we have all these partners in this room and thank you, but the awareness is going to go through these little microphones and into those cameras, that's how the word is going to continue to spread."

The event was held by the Wealth-Building Coalition of Pinellas County, a group that aims to give an economic boost to low and moderate income families. The coalition is offering free tax preparation throughout Pinellas. Foster said the service needs publicity, given that many people spend way too much to get their taxes done.

"It's also raising an awareness as to the pitfalls of some of these programs that you'll see on TV; loans. 'Come do your tax return and we'll give you a loan on your refund.' And I'll say, at times they provide a great service and I'm not going to get into a commentary on good or bad, but when you're talking about people that making less than $49,000 a year as a family unit, there are times when the benefit of that loan based upon the refund, the benefit is not outweighed by the expense of that."

This year, Tax Day is scheduled for April 18, three days later than normal, because Washington, DC will celebrate Emancipation Day on the 15th.

tax help site

United Way list of free tax help

Previous WMNF coverage of Kathy Castor

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