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Free tax prep offered in NCP neighborhoods

Residents of five NCP neighborhoods and four others in Chicago once again had the opportunity to seek free tax preparation help in 2011, provided their income was below $50,000 for families and $25,000 for individuals.

The program run by The Center for Economic Progress, now in its 18th year, served 30,000 families and brought in $54 million in refunds in 2010 (figures for 2011 will be available later in the spring).

Photo: Ernest Sanders/GADC

In Auburn Gresham, nearly 40 certified individuals from different careers and disciplines provided families with tax assistance and other help in becoming more financially secure.

Options available at the individual sites—among them spots in Auburn Gresham, North Lawndale, Pilsen, Quad Communities and West Haven—included the ability to open a savings or checking account or to get a prepaid debit card to deposit one’s refund, as well as help with applying for Financial Aid for Education (FAFSA).

The program did not undergo any major changes in 2011, although filers faced some different issues than in the past, says Rolando Palacios, director of tax services at CEP. For example, the state of Illinois required taxpayers to file a “use tax” on their 1040 form stating whether they had purchased items on the Internet or in other states on which they should pay state taxes.

The federal government has created a new tax credit for adoptions of more than $13,000 for “special needs” children, a designation that Palacios says applies to most children who are wards of the state. “It’s a significant amount of money,” he says.

The St. Sabina Employment Resource Center in Auburn Gresham brought home more than $2.1 million in tax refunds for more than 1,000 filers, drawing those folks into the Center for Working Families and the Smart Communities Program run by Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corp.

Photo: Courtesy Instituto del Progreso Latino

Institute del Progreso Latino in Pilsen served at least 1,500 families and brought back at least $3 million in returns, says director Yesenia Cervantes.

Ernest Sanders, NCP organizer for GADC, says those waiting to use the tax center watched commercials about the “Every Day Digital” and “Civics 2.0” classes offered through Smart Communities as well as the community’s Family Network Center and Business Resource Center. Representatives from CVS Minute Clinic and Harmony Health also gave presentations on Saturdays about issues like diabetes and high blood pressures, he says.

GADC promotes the tax prep centers and the CWF generally through an intern who works at Public Allies, based at Perspectives Charter School—the community’s entrant in LISC/Chicago’s Elev8 program—who cross-checked to see if any of those who used the tax prep centers were Perspectives parents. They followed up with phone calls to say, “I see that you were at our free tax site—by the way, we have these services to offer you, too, as part of the Center for Working Families,” he says.

For more on the Auburn Gresham effort, please click here.

The CWF at Institute del Progreso Latino in Pilsen served at least 1,500 families and brought back at least $3 million in returns, says director Yesenia Cervantes. The tax prep center offered the savings and checking accounts, prepaid debit cards and FAFSA help, as well as assistance in accessing public benefits, she says. Food stamps were an especially popular item in 2011.

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