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News & Updates from the Assets & Opportunity Network


Making Work Pay for Working Families in the Ocean State

Posted by rflum on 03/26/2015

Greetings from the Ocean State! This year, the Economic Progress Institute is partnering with local organizations across the state to increase Rhode Island's Earned Income Tax Credit.

Last year, lawmakers made two significant changes to programs that provide targeted tax relief to low-income Rhode Islanders. First, they eliminated property tax relief for low-income renters and homeowners who are not elderly or disabled, saving the state $8 million. At the same time, the state’s earned income tax credit – which had been only partially refundable – was reduced from 25 percent to 10 percent of the federal credit – but made fully refundable. This would cost the state an additional $8 million. There were winners and losers as a result of these changes.

The Economic Progress Institute is leading a campaign this year to increase the EITC from 10 to 20 percent of the federal credit. Over 80,000 filers in Rhode Island benefited from the EITC in Tax Year 2012, returning over 175 million dollars to the state from their federal returns. This money goes right back into the local economy, bringing more customers to local businesses like mechanic shops, day care centers, and corner stores.

Workers who receive the EITC also contribute to Rhode Island's economy by paying more than their fair share of taxes. In fact, low-income Rhode Islander's pay nearly twice as much of their income towards taxes as the wealthiest Rhode Islanders. The Ocean State now has the 5th highest taxes on low-income households in the nation according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy.

Governor Gina Raimondo has included in her budget an increase to Rhode Island's EITC raising the current 10 percent credit to 15 percent over the next two years. Other bills have also been introduced to increase the EITC to 20 percent in the house and the senate (H5513/S163).

In order to keep the EITC front and center in the minds of legislators, we have implemented a postcard campaign asking Rhode Islanders to petition their local Representatives and Senators to increase Rhode Island's Earned Income Tax Credit.

The reception has been amazing! Over 1,000 cards have already been sent to lawmakers, urging them to help give working families a hand up.

Click here to learn more about how an increased state EITC would help make work pay for Rhode Island's working families.

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UNITED WAY: Putting hope on the line with 2-1-1

Posted by slopez on 03/26/2015

A young father of two desperately needed a new pair of work boots to keep his construction job. Unsure of how he was going to pay for them, he called the 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPLINE. He was connected with a United Way THRIVE specialist and ultimately, the help he received went beyond boots and put his feet on the path to a brighter future. He was provided resources to help him go back to school, get his GED and land a welding job that would lead to greater financial stability for his family.

A strong economy and robust employment market made 2014 a good year for many Houstonians, but even in good times, many people in our community still struggle. With so many needs to be met, the 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPLINE provides life-changing services to support individuals and families in good times and bad.

In 2014, United Way of Greater Houston’s 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPLINE answered more than 940,000 calls from our neighbors looking for help. 2-1-1 is a gateway to help for the Houston area, connecting callers to the human services safety net that United Way makes strong. Daily, we respond to callers looking for assistance with food, rent, bills, medical prescriptions and legal aide. Last year, nearly 17,000 calls were answered from military veterans looking for employment assistance, counseling and medical assistance. And when disaster strikes, such as a hurricane, flood or other natural disaster, 2-1-1 is the central resource line for residents in affected areas.

Even though 2-1-1 Texas/United Way HELPLINE handles the largest volume of helpline calls in the nation, a large number of people in our community still don't know about the service or what it does to change lives for the better. If you heard from neighbors like Rhonda, the shut-in senior citizen who now has transportation to her doctor's appointments and a hot meal delivered to her home by a smiling face, you would think about 2-1-1 in a whole new light. With call volume essentially quadrupling in less than a decade, we needed a new facility to ensure that 2-1-1 is able to keep up with the growing needs in our community. Thanks to the generosity of Houston philanthropists Penny and Paul Loyd, United Way recently built a state-of-the-art 2-1-1 facility with more space to staff HELPLINE specialists during peak times and the ability to, within hours, add even more capacity in times of disaster. The new facility means that your 2-1-1 HELPLINE is now positioned to serve community needs now and in the future.

We urge you to take a moment and think about a time in your life when you or someone you know has struggled. The power of a calming human voice offering help is profoundly impactful in finding hope and taking action. Not only do our trained 2-1-1 specialists help with our callers’ immediate needs, they also work to treat the root of the problem through initiatives like United Way THRIVE, which helps families achieve financial stability, and our veteran’s initiative.

Help us raise awareness for this vital community resource. If you encounter someone who needs help, whether at work, school or in your neighborhood, encourage them to call 2-1-1. If you are able to join us in supporting United Way in this valuable and community-shaping work, we welcome you. If you are already among the United Way donors and supporters who make 2-1-1 possible, there are nearly a million reasons why you deserve the heartiest thanks.

Scott McLean is president of Zion Bancorporation and a member of the United Way board of directors. He and wife, Anna, are United Way volunteer leaders.

Posted: Wednesday, March 25, 2015 11:33 pm on By Scott and Anna McClean

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Vermont's Scorecard Results

Posted by mniebling on 03/25/2015

Tags: Vermont, Scorecard

The figures just came in and we’ve got good news and bad news.
First the Good News: Every year Cfed-the Corporation for Enterprise Development-releases data on their Assets and Opportunity Scorecard. The data use 135 measures to reflect the financial well-being of Americans and breaks the data down by state to show how states compare to one another and to report on the policies states are adopting to help improve the financial outlook for their citizens. Vermont ranks #2 in overall measurement of data regarding income, employment, health care, education, and housing. Hurray for the Green Mountain State!
The bad news is that it’s all relative to the rest of the country. According to the scorecard, millions of Americans are not benefiting from the economic recovery, and there continues to be significant disparities between the poor and the wealthy. In Vermont, we still have 12.6% of our population living below the federal poverty threshold, 26.7% are asset poor, meaning they don’t have emergency money if a crisis hits, such as a job loss, a health problem or a car repair, and nearly 46% of Vermonters have sub-prime credit, making affordable loans out of reach for many working families. The average credit card debt for Vermonters is $9,822, right around the national average. Look around you—these are your neighbors, and your friends--the grocery store associate, the car wash attendant, the school cook who feeds your kids, and the single mom LNA who takes care of Grandma—in short, these are the working poor of Vermont. We can celebrate that Vermont ranks in the top 10 of states that have adopted policies to help alleviate the effects of poverty. These include policies like eliminating the asset tests for LIHEAP (Low Income Energy Assistance Program), and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), prohibiting Payday lending practices, offering a state EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) in addition to the federal EITC, and other consumer protection policies that protect people’s assets and help them overcome financial hardship. But there’s more policy work that can be done to help low-income Vermonters. For example, Vermont still has an asset limit requirement for folks who are applying for TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) or Reach Up, as it’s called in Vermont. This means that folks who receive a tax refund must “spend down” the money rather than put it in a savings account if they want to maintain their Reach Up benefits. But an empty savings account means no cash on hand for the car repair to help them get to work, or funds to pay for the unexpected furnace repair bill. Eliminating the asset limitation for Reach Up makes sense because having a safety net such as an emergency savings account is exactly what someone needs to help them move off of public assistance.
Our mission at Capstone Community Action is to provide comprehensive service to help people achieve economic well-being with dignity and develop partnerships to strengthen Vermont communities. Our commitment is to alleviate the suffering caused by poverty, to work with individuals and families to move out of poverty, and to advocate for economic justice for all Vermonters. Despite Vermont’s #2 ranking overall on the 2015 Assets and Opportunity Scorecard, there’s still more work to be accomplished to help all Vermonters achieve economic prosperity.

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Vermont Wins!

Posted by mniebling on 03/25/2015

Tags: USDA, SNAP, Vermont, Jobs

Governor Peter Shumlin of Vermont acknowledging an award of nearly 9 million dollars in federal grants for Vermont and its community partners to support Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients with job training and job placement. Vermont is one of only 10 states in the nation (and the only state in the northeast) to receive this prestigious grant to help people move off of public assistance and into the workforce. ‪#‎VTaction

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Tax Time

Posted by mniebling on 03/25/2015

Tags: tax, VITA, Vermont

By now your mailbox should be containing envelopes with the special note, “important tax documents enclosed” and you’re either anxiously awaiting a possible refund, or dreading the day you have to sit down and deal with a potential payment to Uncle Sam. The good news is that if you’re one of the millions of American families whose income is $53,000 or less, you can avoid the stress and have your taxes prepared for free at a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site near you. If you are eligible for a refund, you will receive it within 5-7 business days of filing so there’s no need to pay a professional tax preparer who will not only charge you to file but may charge an additional fee to get you your refund only a few days sooner. All across the country, VITA sites in all the states are gearing up for tax season and Vermont is no exception. Central Vermont has a number of sights open in the evenings, during the day and on Saturdays with dedicated IRS volunteers who can provide free basic tax preparation for you and your family. Volunteers are trained to make sure that you get the credits and rebates you may be eligible for such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit, Education Credits, Renters Rebate and more. If you’re concerned about the Affordable Care Act and how that might impact your filing, VITA volunteers will help you navigate those details, too.
VITA tax sites open February 9th in central Vermont with our main location here at Capstone Community Action in Barre. For locations and times, and for a list of what to bring with you (and remember, if you’re married filing jointly you with BOTH need to be present), visit Capstone’s tax preparation webpage at

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Leaving Money on the Table

Posted by cspohrer on 03/23/2015

Tags: Virginia, EITC, refundable

By Mitchell Cole, Policy Analyst, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis

Every year at tax time, Virginia’s Earned Income Credit (EIC) helps hundreds of thousands of working families reduce their taxes. But for all the good that it does, the state’s credit is missing a critical piece that forces families across the state to leave some of their credit — and their cash — on the table.

Unlike with the federal credit, which gives taxpayers the full value, taxpayers in Virginia who claim the state credit can’t get back what they don’t use.

That means families can use the Virginia EIC to reduce the income tax they owe, but it doesn’t help them deal with the other state and local taxes they pay. In fact, they often pay more of their income in state and local taxes than better-off families. That’s because sales and property taxes weigh more heavily on low-income families. So for many families, just reducing their state incomes taxes doesn’t go far enough.

For example, a single parent of two earning $15,000 would get a credit of $1,092. However, that’s $761 more than the amount of income tax she owes. So while her income tax gets reduced to zero, she still must leave most of her credit on the table. That’s money that could be used to help pay a utility bill, buy food for the family, or pay for a car repair.

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There’s an easy fix to this problem: Lawmakers can improve the state’s EIC by making it refundable, helping thousands of low-income, working families by giving them the full value they’ve earned. Even just making the EIC partially refundable would be a step in the right direction. But so far, that’s too much for Virginia’s lawmakers, who voted down proposals to do just that during the last session.

So as families of all income levels file their taxes this year, many of those at the lowest end of the scale will be denied the tax credits that they’ve worked hard to earn. And that just doesn’t seem fair.

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Bank On Virginia Beach Now Enrolling New Classes

Posted by cspohrer on 03/18/2015

Tags: Bank On, Virginia Beach, Financial Education, classes

Virginia Beach, Virginia - Bank On Virginia Beach, a partnership of participating banks, credit unions, community organizations and the City of Virginia Beach, is designed to help you take control of your finances. Spring classes are now enrolling and thanks to the local partners, classes are free. One-on-one coaching will help you set goals, create realistic financial plans and access necessary resources. Put a spring in your step and get started on a better financial path.

Since 2012, graduates of the program have committed over $ ½ million to savings, reduced debt by over $120,000 and improved average credit score by 21 points.

For more information, including how to enroll. visit the Bank On website.

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Tax Season in Full Swing at Wayne Metro

Posted by mlulion on 03/17/2015


By Elena Garton

Wayne Metro's Tax program has been working hard every day filing taxes. If you find yourself sweating over preparing your taxes, just come visit us at one of our many sites and we will file your worries away!

Five Reasons You Should File Your Taxes at a Wayne Metro Tax Site

  1. It's FREE - It is obvious why this is number one.

  2. Certified Through the IRS - All preparers, volunteers, and financial coaches are trained and certified through the IRS. If you would like to see our fancy certificates we would be happy to show you!

  3. You Could Win BIG - By saving a portion of their refund clients have the opportunity to win a $25 gift card, $100 cash prize, or $25,000! We also tend to frequent candy and have Wayne Metro swag for our loyal clients.

  4. Locations Throughout All of Wayne County - For all of tax season (January through April) we have tax sites across the entire county, 36 total! Our sites are open Monday through Saturday, morning through evening. Our motto could be "convenience"!

  5. Much More than Tax Preparation - Wayne Metro provides numerous services as an agency, and this is reflected at our tax sites. Besides just tax preparation, there are also financial coaches on site to talk to and multiple services and resources available for other Wayne Metro programs.

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The Assets & Opportunity Network Announces New Leadership

Posted by klawton on 03/16/2015

The Assets & Opportunity Network is happy to announce new leadership to help guide and shape the direction of the Network as well as represent and share the cutting edge service delivery and advocacy work happening in their local communities. At the end of 2014, several members of the Network Steering Committee (NSC) transitioned off the committee. We would like to thank David Rothstein (Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland) and Kate Richey (Oklahoma Policy Institute) for serving on the NSC since the beginning in 2012. To fill their shoes, the NSC invited four distinguished Network Leaders to join the Committee for the next two years. The new NSC members are:

The four new members above join current NSC members Lisa Forti (Alameda County Social Services, NSC Chair), Christina Barsky (Consultant, Montana), Lucy Gorham (University of North Carolina), Margaret Miley (Midas Collaborative, Massachusetts), Lucy Mullany (Illinois Asset Building Group), Victor Ramirez (Center for Asset Building Opportunities/Citi Community Development, Los Angeles), Kaye Schmitz (Florida Prosperity Partnership) and Dave Snyder (Minnesota Asset Building Coalition). All members will bring their state and local expertise in asset building programs and policies to help shape the direction of the Network.

In addition to new Network Steering Committee Members, the Network also welcomed 13 new Network Leaders, bringing the total to 85. Of that number, 36 are State Network Leaders and 49 are Local Network Leaders, spanning 42 states and the District of Columbia.

A&O Network map

The new group of Network Leaders includes both long-standing and new statewide and local coalitions as well as asset-building practitioners and advocates. These groups have experience in free tax preparation, housing counseling, Bank On and credit counseling programs, as well as advocating for the Earned Income Tax Credit, children’s savings accounts, regulations of payday lending, prize-linked savings and much more.

New State Network Leaders:

New Local Network Leaders:

You can learn more about all of our Network Leaders and Network Steering Committee members by visiting our website at and joining as a General Member. Future opportunities to apply to become a Network Leader will be announced to Network General Members in the Fall.

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Happy VITA Customers at Appalachian Community Action

Posted by cspohrer on 03/16/2015

Tags: community action, VITA, Virginia, Appalachian

Appalachian Community Action in Gate City, Virginia hosts Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) every year and is emphasizing savings this year to all customers coming to have their federal and state tax returns filed electronically for free by certified volunteers. Pictured below: The Kiser Family, Mr. Hosein, and The Leonard Family showing off how much they saved.

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