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Tax benefits help the needy

By Nate Luscombe

Staff Writer

HOLYOKE Mayor Michael Sullivan announced last week the city is launching an initiative to help low-income working families save money during tax season.

Sullivan, along with representatives from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Holyoke Earned Income Tax Coalition, said that thousands of Holyoke families are eligible for and Earned Income Tax Credit(EITC), but don't claim it, possibly because they aren't aware of it, said Sullivan.

"It keeps money in the economy,"Sullivan said. "It's really a bonus for the underserved community."

Ray Murphy of the Holyoke Housing Authority agreed, saying that the residents count on that refund money to help them pay their rent which sometimes they still owe as well as save some money for a potential down payment on a house.

Families with incomes below $35,000, and individuals with an income lower than $12,000 are eligible for the tax break.

Those falling within the guidelines will be eligible for free tax preparation services beginning on Jan. 21. The Holyoke Tax Coalition, the Valley Opportunity Council, the Massachusetts Justice Project and other local agencies will offer the free service.

Volunteers will come from Elms College, Holyoke Community College, Mount Holyoke College and UMass to help fill out the tax forms for qualifying people.

Last year, HUD and the IRS launched the partnership to help low-income working individuals and families many of whom are beneficiaries of HUD and service programs to save money on their annual income through the EITC.

"At HUD, we serve people who rely on assistance just to make ends meet, but many of them do not take advantage of this credit," said Taylor Caswell, HUD's regional director. "Whether saving money for a down payment on a house, or to pay their rent, or to splurge on something a little extra, every dollar counts."

The EITC does not affect eligibility for low-income housing, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, or food stamps.

Last year, Holyoke's two sites served approximately 1,000 taxpayers who received more than $583,000 in Earned Income Tax Credits, a figure that does not include a 15 percent Massachusetts credit that can be claimed on the state tax return. The average federal refund was more than $1,200.

Vivienne Waight of the Holyoke Tax Coalition said that last year, a woman who didn't speak English came to them, not knowing about the program or that she was eligible for the EITC. The woman received more than $20,000 in refunds, and was able to make a down payment on a house for her, her disabled husband, and their three or four kids, Waight said.

"This is not atypical," she added. "This happens year after year."

"It puts money back in the pockets of people who need it the most," said William Smits, IRS territory manager.

Residents curious about whether or not the qualify for the EITC, are encouraged to call any of the locations for a consultation. The program is offered at the following locations: Mass Justice Project, 57 Suffolk Street, Holyoke, 533-2660; Valley Opportunity Council, 300 High Street, Holyoke, 315-6020; Valley Opportunity Council at Village Townhomes, 68 Eastern Drive off Meadow Street, Chicopee, 315-6020.