Winter-Spring 2004

The Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Electronic Filing and Technology Access Project

Twenty-five percent of Boston's eligible populace has been missing out on what is arguably one of the country's most effective anti-poverty programs, and those who have taken advantage have often paid needless filing fees. The Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Electronic Filing and Technology Access Project is designed to put over a million dollars back into the hands of low-income residents. The project is funded through a grant from the Department of Commerce under its Technology Opportunity Program (TOP). The TOP grant program innovative social change projects at the community level.

AJ Tavares, Terry McClarney, and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino

At the Boston EITC Kick-off at Roxbury Community Center on January 17: AJ Tavares from I-CAN, EITC TOP Proect Co-PI Terry McClarney, and UMass/Boston CPCS graduate and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
Many people are unaware that the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is available to individuals who earn marginal incomes. It provided over $30 billion dollars to 18.4 million low-income families in 2001. Yet every year millions of these dollars go unclaimed. The tax credit returns can be over $4,000 per family, and for those who have not filed before, three years of back eligibility benefits are available. This project recognizes the need to supplement the city's existing efforts to return the EITC dollars to the public, and builds on an existing EITC coalition of agencies. It does so by working with other partners: Boston area Community Technology Centers (CTCs) affiliated with CTCNet, the Commonwealth Broadband Collaborative (CBC), community agencies such like Survivors, Inc., and UMass/Boston CPCS students to reach out to those people who are eligible, by providing online access to forms and filing and additional follow-up financial literacy programs.

The Community Resource Center at the University of Massachusetts/Boston is partnering with the existing Boston EITC Coalition to set up a CTC network for outreach, referral, and processing in addition to the city's existing 18 sites.

The Legal Society of Orange County will provide training and applicant processing support as well as expanded and updated filing processes through its I CAN! online filing system. I-CAN efile, in contrast with the more complicated system used by full-service tax centers, is ideal for CTCs and can help expand EITC accessibility for those most in need (see the article about it in the spring issue of the ComTechReview). Forms are being made available in several languages and will enable applicants to file for their state and federal returns online at their local CTC, saving them time and money.

The project will launch a major outreach effort that will include assistance from the project's partners. CTCNet New England will coordinate CTC involvement; the CBC network will provide outreach and publicity. Survivors Inc., a grassroots welfare-rights advocacy organization, will train several of its members to conduct outreach and to offer online assistance. Because of its large membership base, history of community organizing, and recognition in the community, the efforts of Survivors Inc. are expected to yield significant numbers of new applicants for the EITC.

The Community Resource Center is designed to change the way the university responds to community needs and to enhance its urban mission, while providing students with meaningful service-learning opportunities. Thus there are opportunities for student engagement. Five low-income students majoring in Community Media and Technology will conduct outreach, recruitment, training and online support for eligible members of the University community, as part of their course work.

Once eligible applicants have been identified and assisted in filing online, they will be surveyed about additional needs for financial literacy. Based on their responses, the EITC coalition, working with the CTCs and the CBC network, will design a curriculum and training program which will be available to participants through a team of traveling troubadours at each site. It is likely that financial packages from banks supporting economic independence initiatives will also be available. With this additional component, Boston area low-income residents are likely to receive added financial benefits.

By coordinating with the CBC partners in Cambridge, Somerville, Malden, and Lowell, the project will develop a statewide component and impact potential state applicants. The CBC network provides information and programming that can reach untold numbers through innovative cable and web broadcast and interactive communications and information systems. Through I-CAN! national outreach, CTCNet, and publicity vehicles such as The Community Technology Review, there will be a national impact as well. This is hoped to result in an overall return of more than $1,500,000 in federal and state taxes, including $500,000 in Earned Income Tax Credits to low-income residents and neighborhoods across the state and country. The CBC components, as well as the central EITC program and its use by the CTCs, demonstrate innovative uses of network technologies to underserved populations while fostering communication, resource sharing and economic development.

Joan Arches is Associate Professor of Human Services and Youth Work in the College of Public and Community Service at UMass/Boston and, along with Terry McLarney, is co-Principal Investigator on the TOP EITC grant project.

CTCNet & Four Affiliates TOP Winners in 2003

According to former AFCN President and current TOP Program Officer Amy Borgstrom, eyeballing the current TOP grants, of the 28 grantees in 2003, awards to CTCNet affiliates include those to the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago, Technology for All in Houston, and TINCAN in Spokane, WA as well as the UMass/Boston.

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