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Giving A Credit Where It's Due

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By Timothy Wilson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 29, 2009

The unofficial beginning of tax season is two days away: Employers are required to send W-2 forms to employees by the last day of the month so workers can file personal income taxes by April 15.

It's also the date when the D.C. Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign begins its annual blitz to increase awareness of federal and D.C. tax benefits for low-income residents.

The campaign, a citywide effort comprising volunteers, nonprofit organizations, corporations and government agencies, begins at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the United Planning Organization, in the Petey Greene Community Center, 2907 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE.

There will be 11 sites in the District -- three in Northeast, five in Northwest, two in Southeast and one in Southwest -- where residents whose annual income is less than $22,000 individually, and families with a combined income of less than $42,000 annually, can receive free assistance from a certified tax preparer on federal and D.C. tax returns.

An earned-income tax credit is given by the Internal Revenue Service to reduce taxes for families without children that have earned less than $12,880 in 2008, $33,995 for those with one child and $38,646 for those with two or more children.

The maximum earned-income tax credits for 2008 are $438 for families with no children, $2,917 for families with one child and $4,824 for families with two or more children.

The District, which enacted its earned-income tax credit in 2000, allows taxpayers who claim the federal credit to receive a D.C. credit equal to 40 percent of the amount given by the IRS.

In 2002, less than 80 percent of D.C. residents who claimed the federal credit also claimed the D.C. credit. By 2004, that number had risen to about 92 percent. An estimated 50,000 D.C. residents are eligible for the federal earned-income credit annually.

"Every year, the eligible population changes. More people have been claiming it," said Colleen Murphy, executive director of Capital Area Asset Builders, the group responsible for directing the District's campaign. "It is so valuable in terms of dollars to the community."

According to the IRS, more than 47,000 D.C. residents received the federal credit for 2007, getting more than $86.3 million. About 40 percent of those residents lived east of the Anacostia River, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute.

Barbara Mantegani, who has volunteered since the campaign's inception, said the experience of helping low-income taxpayers is "very humbling."

"People always say they want to help the poor, but giving them an accurate tax return is so important when you look at the impact the earned-income tax credit has," said Mantegani, a senior manager at the accounting firm KPMG. "You see the tangible results of our efforts to put the money back into the community, and it's so gratifying."

In addition to free tax-filing services, the campaign looks to connect low-income taxpayers with programs and services to improve their financial stability with year-round economic support.

"We want to provide a free alternative to people who can't afford to lose any money," Murphy said. "We want people to know how to get good service and not get ripped off."

Another group is helping low-income residents in the city. IRS-certified preparers will provide free tax preparation and e-filing, financial workshops and credit counseling to qualifying low-income D.C. residents from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, also at the United Planning Organization's Petey Greene Community Service Center. To schedule an appointment, call 202-610-5857. The United Planning Organization is co-sponsoring the workshop with the D.C. Earned Income Tax Credit Campaign.

For more information on the campaign, go to http://www.dceitc.org.


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