Murray Ledger & Times (Kentucky)
By: Constance Alexander
October 5, 2010
Julie Holder admitted she was nervous, but her steady voice and unwavering gaze belied the fact. She stood at the podium and told her story with unflinching honesty because she had been asked to share her experiences as a member of an often ignored and sometimes maligned portion of the population, the working poor.
Like so many families in the current economy, the Holders managed to get by on her husband's salary as a welder until he was laid off. In an effort to be better prepared for job stability in the future, he went back to school full-time and Julie - who'd been a stay-at-home mom for their six kids - joined the workforce. "I had to step up," she declared.
Predictably, the Holders have experienced emotional and financial struggles along the way. When a daughter comes home from visiting a friend and announces that her pal has curtains that match her bedspread, "It's very hard," Julie confessed. "I remind my kids they have a roof over their head, food, TV, but they want to have the same things their friends have."
Like most parents, Julie believes that someday her children will understand the challenges of trying to scrape by financially, but that day has not yet arrived. Nevertheless, she describes them as good kids who work hard and stay out of trouble.
Recently, in an effort to provide help for families like the Holders, United Way of Murray-Calloway County has stepped up and launched a new initiative - the Purchase Area Asset Building Coalition. The Coalition's mission is three-fold:
• To promote and provide access to community-wide financial education programs.
• To help low and middle income community members to create wealth.
• To create a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site.
Just hearing about the process involved in dealing with for-profit income tax preparers makes it clear that creation of a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site (VITA) is a giant step forward that will help Julie Holder and her family. In the past, Julie has had to pay $300 to get her family's tax prepared; with VITA, there will be no cost.
In addition, families like the Holders can complete the forms that help them claim the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), another stepping stone to financial stability. At last week's meeting where Julie Holder spoke, Mike Maxwell, Assistant VP/Financial Center Leader of BB & T's North Branch in Murray, talked about how United Way is joining with other partners to establish a regional Asset Building Coalition. The Coalition will provide free income tax preparation; financial education; and assistance in establishing Individual Development Accounts, a savings program that offers a two-to-one match for low income families trying to save for the purchase of a first home or additional education.
Mike Maxwell and a committee of dedicated volunteers have set up a timeline to implement a Coalition that will start locally and expand to the region over time. "After one year, we can take asset building beyond Murray-Calloway County," he said, emphasizing that the process does not involve reinventing any wheels, but in promoting services that already exist but are under-utilized. By asking Julie Holder to address the group, the Coalition was striving to communicate the impact of financial instability on a family that was down on its luck but determined to get ahead.
Julie Holder spoke eloquently about how difficult it is to move out of poverty. "Our bills are paid by us," she said, "but it isn't easy."
Any little thing can shift the balance. Adding insult to injury, Julie mentions that some people think the working poor are dysfunctional, and they are talked down to.
She readily admits that in the past they been homeless and hungry, but they are on their own now, barely making it. "We don't go to Needline," she said, referring to a local agency that helps families in need.
In order to be on our own," Julie remarked, "we can't fall back. It's scary." She went on to say that the help offered through an Asset Building Coalition would be most welcome. "Any little thing that helps is awesome," she concluded.
Statewide, Kentucky's Asset Success Initiative has served more than 10,000 families, with $13.5 million in federal tax refunds returned, and 3,476 families claiming the EITC. A map in the Initiative's 2010 annual report identifies the counties in which the program has achieved the gains quoted above, with the entire region of Kentucky west of Bowling Green not being served.
United Way of Murray-Calloway County is determined to change that. To do so, the Purchase Area Asset Building Coalition seeks partners and support from the business community, and individuals who are interested in volunteering as coordinators for tax preparation sites, or as volunteer tax preparers.
Employers were also asked to bring word of free income tax preparation back to their employees.
For more information, contact Aaron Dail at United Way or Mike Maxwell at BB & T. Aaron Dail's email is email@example.com. His phone number is 270-753-0317. Mr. Maxwell is available at firstname.lastname@example.org. His phone number is 270-767-2291.