By: Kyla King
March 20, 2010
Each year, more than $14 million in tax credits go unclaimed by Kent County residents who qualify.
Brame and her team of about 150 volunteers are hard at work offering free tax assistance at 22 sites run by the Kent County Tax Credit Coalition.
The main goal is to find Earned Income Tax Credits ranging from about $450 to more than $5,600 for low- to moderate-income residents and families who earn between $13,000 to $48,279.
"What people need to understand is it's their money," said Brame, who heads up the coalition. "We're not talking about (the government) giving you something you didn't earn. If you worked, this is your money."
The tax coalition's effort is supported by Heart of West Michigan United Way, money from the Walmart Foundation and grants from other state and local agencies.
Since its inception in 2002, the program has helped more than 27,000 taxpayers get millions in tax refunds and credits.
Brame notes a lot of that money goes to families who are a paycheck away from financial disaster and those who spend it on food, shelter, clothing and health care.
Families such as Grand Rapids residents Pablo and Mercedes Lebron, who recently got help preparing their taxes and filing a refund at a site run out of Clancy Street Ministries on the Northeast Side.
Pablo Lebron, who works in housekeeping, said it was the first time he got free assistance. Because he did not work as much as last year, he was relieved to hear volunteers had found enough credits to allow him a refund.
"Something is better than nothing," Lebron said.
Each site is staffed by volunteers trained and certified with the Internal Revenue Service, who all sign confidentiality agreements and submit to background checks, Brame said.
In addition to identifying folks who qualify for the Earned Income credit, volunteers also work to find out if taxpayers qualify for child, homestead and heating credits.
They are people like Stephanie Worden, the site coordinator at Clancy Street.
Worden's site already has helped 312 clients prepare returns and 90 percent have qualified for the Earned Income credit. And this year, Worden has also helped folks get credits funded through federal stimulus dollars and the first-time home buyer credit.
"That's the one that's brought tears to people's eyes," Worden said. "I think they expect that they're getting a large amount back, but when it's on top of their normal return, that's like a $12,000 return and that changes people's lives."
Brame said this year the coalition put a site in Grand Rapids Public Schools for the first time. The group also runs financial literacy classes for students and adults.
"It's one thing to help people get thousands of dollars. It's another thing to recommend what they do with the money," Brame said.