Earned Income Tax Credit : Berrien County EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) Initiative

Program/Practice Name: Berrien County EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) Initiative

Agency Name: Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency

Contact Information:
Lead Agency

Twyla E. Smith
Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency
185 E. Main Street, Suite 303
Benton Harbor, MI 49022
Phone: (269) 925-9077 ext. 12
tsmith@smcaa.com
www.smcaa.com

Rachel Wade
United Way of Southwest Michigan
2015 Lakeview Avenue
Saint Joseph, MI 49085
Phone: (269) 982-1700 ext. 20
rachel.wade@uwsm.org
www.uwsm.org

www.michiganeic.org

 

Type of Program/Practice: The Berrien County EITC Initiative provides free tax preparation services and financial literacy to low- and moderate-income families in Berrien, Cass, and Van Buren Counties.

Program/Practice Description: The Berrien County EITC Initiative is part of a statewide anti-poverty initiative that urges low- and moderate-income Michigan residents to file for the federal EITC if they qualify. The initiative offers free tax preparation services to EITC-eligible residents. The initiative is heavily dependent upon volunteers to conduct the tax preparation activities. Site coordinators spend considerable time marketing the program and recruiting volunteers. In addition to tax preparation services, the Berrien County EITC Initiative promotes financial literacy as residents wait for their taxes to be prepared.

Innovations and Results: Money management and financial literacy are crucial to the Berrien County EITC Initiative. The goal is for residents to make better choices with their money that will lead to better financial security. While EITC eligible residents are waiting to file their taxes, a financial literacy video is played and brochures are available. Volunteers also discuss financial literacy with residents.

Funding: The Berrien County EITC Initiative is funded through grants (e.g., United Way, the State Community Services Block Grant-Tax) and in-kind donations.

Staffing: Site coordinators conduct the marketing for the EITC initiative, recruit and coordinate volunteers, and e-file the tax returns. The IT coordinator provides technical support for the computers and the network. The EITC initiative depends on volunteers; there are 10-15 volunteers who carry out the tax preparation and financial literacy activities. A trainer for the volunteers also completes tax returns at the site. Both the IT coordinator and trainer are volunteers.

Tips to Implementation: To create an active coalition, have people who can run everyday activities. Success depends on the volunteers for without volunteers, there is no program. Quality is more important than quantity when recruiting volunteers.

Keys to Success:

  • Finding high-quality, committed volunteers.
  • Retaining volunteers from previous years.

Challenges: Recruiting volunteers is among the biggest challenges. The Berrien County EITC Initiative uses flyers, letters to churches and schools, visits to businesses, presentations, and word-of-mouth marketing to ensure information about the EITC initiative reaches the community and to help recruit volunteers. To retain volunteers from previous years, the Berrien County EITC Initiative shows appreciation for the volunteers’ work by catering a dinner at the end of tax season and presenting volunteer awards.

The following tools are associated with Berrien County EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) Initiative.  Please send us an email at upitoolkit@icfi.com for more information about these tools.

Checklist for Filing

Describes what papers residents should bring to file taxes.

EITC PowerPoint

Training guide for volunteers.

EITC Volunteer Survey

Evaluation form designed to gain feedback from volunteers to improve the program and practices.

Intake Form

For collecting information from residents prior to tax preparation.

Managing Your Debts

Financial literacy brochure.

Marketing Letters

Sample letters to families, churches, employers, and schools to raise awareness about free tax preparation services for EITC eligible residents.

Marketing Timeline

Prepares coalitions for the tax season.

Memorandum of Understanding

Agreement for coalition members to sign indicating commitment to EITC program, what they are willing to provide, and when and how they will provide it.

Site Job Descriptions

Provides job descriptions for key personnel before, during, and after tax filing season; also includes recommended supply lists.

Site Procedures

Describes roles and responsibilities of reception, intake, tax preparer, and quality control.

Volunteer Letter

Sample letter to recruit volunteers for tax preparation.

Volunteer Timeline

Provides chronology for organizing an EITC volunteer program.