Free tax filing services can help low-income Canadians boost their income

For most Canadians, filing tax is an annual civic ritual to which we obligingly submit. For low-income households, however, tax time is an important – and often missed – opportunity to bolster household finances.

By calling 211 Canadians living on low incomes can access free tax preparation services offered by government, and community-based service agencies, and possible income boosts available through filing tax.

More than $1 billion in unclaimed income tax benefits

“Most Canadians would be quite shocked to learn that every year over $1 billion of income benefits and tax credits that our parliament has legislated for the needs of the most vulnerable people in Canada never make it into their pockets,” says Adam Fair, VP of Strategy and Impact at Prosper Canada.

Prosper Canada is a charity dedicated to expanding economic opportunity for Canadians living in poverty through program and policy innovation. In 2015, Prosper released a report on the income boosting benefits of filing tax for Canadians living on low incomes. The report says that low income Canadians are often unaware that they can improve their income by filing tax, or they simply experience too many barriers to filing. As a result, Canadians living on low incomes have a lower rate of filing tax.

There are a wide range of government benefits, grants, and savings programs that subsidize low-income earners. Many of these services and entitlements can only be accessed by filing tax to either claim the benefits directly or to establish eligibility.

Available benefits vary from province to province but in Ontario alone, there are 41 potential federal and provincial income benefit programs that people with low-incomes can access directly or indirectly through tax filing. Tax credits could make up as much as 40% of a household on social assistance’s income.

For example, a single parent with two children paying $800 a month in rent and earning $14,000 a year working part-time can access child benefits, the GST/HST credit, the federal working income tax benefit, and the Ontario Trillium Benefit, nearly doubling their income.

The boon to household finances from tax benefits can significantly improve the lives of recipients. According to a 2011 study, the Canada Child Benefit (CCB) has been shown to improve recipient children’s educational outcomes and physical and mental health. There is also evidence that these benefits can improve workforce participation among single mothers.

The barriers to filing tax, and available services

Tax filing can be a daunting task. According to a 2013 survey published by the Bank of Montreal, 42 per cent of Canadians rely on outside help to prepare their tax returns. Software has made preparing a comprehensive return easier, but using it requires a level of computer literacy and access. If you’ve ever cracked the spine on a pen-and-paper tax form, they are more than a little intimidating.

Three years ago, United Way Niagara identified a gap in low income tax preparation service in its region and made significant investments to help address the need. They worked with 211 Ontario to schedule appointments for clients and greatly improve access to tax filing clinics for people in their community living on low incomes. In 2017, United Way Niagara volunteers filed 776 tax returns which resulted in $1,941,914 returned to the community.

“From our perspective it’s a great return for our community. We see it as helping low income people to access entitlements that are there to help them,” said Carol Stewart-Kirby, Executive Director for United Way Niagara.

“As an added benefit, we often hear about folks who have never accessed 211 before, but have used it to schedule tax appointments in our clinic. Now they’re calling to say they need some help with getting their taxes done and then realize they also need help with a landlord tenant issue, so this has been win-win-win.”

There is a cross-country network of 15,000 volunteer tax preparation specialists trained and organized by Canada Revenue Agency’s Canadian Volunteer Income Tax Program (CVITP). Bill Caldwell is a 27-year volunteer with the program. In that time, Caldwell has prepared tax forms for countless clients from many different walks of life, including; seniors, new Canadians, students, low-income earners, and the residents at a nearby women’s shelter. His training, experience, and knowledge allow him to identify his client’s unclaimed benefits and prepare comprehensive tax returns.

“When I sit down with low income seniors or my clients at the women’s centre, the look on their face when they find out; Number 1 their taxes are done, and Number 2 they have a refund as a result of something they did not know about, is an absolute delight,“ he says.

How to access services

Call 2-1-1 for help finding a free tax clinic close to you. To qualify for assistance certain eligibility thresholds apply. These can vary based on jurisdiction but the CRA website provides some guidelines.

Also, for the first time in 2018 about 950,000 Canadians with low or fixed incomes will be eligible for the CRA’s new “File my Return” automated service which makes filing simple tax returns by phone possible.

Autism Transitional Classroom Receives $5,000 Donation from United Way of Chatham-Kent in partnership with Chatham Christian High School

Do you remember the questions asked of you on your Grade 12 English exam? If you do, do you remember feeling like you made a difference?

Last night, twelve Grade 12 students from the Chatham Christian High School, made a presentation to a panel of judges and to the general public about some of the incredible work being done in our community by nonprofit organizations funded by the local United Way.

Amy Bergsma, a teacher at Chatham Christian High School, partnered with United Way of Chatham-Kent and the Chatham-Kent Nonprofit Network to create a unique opportunity for her students to work on an hands-on experiential learning project in place of their final exam – a project that would raise awareness of charitable programs in Chatham-Kent, encourage volunteerism in youth, allow students to meet Ontario curriculum requirements in a meaningful and purposeful way, all while encouraging a pride in, and love for, Chatham-Kent.

The students each selected a charity to research and their assignment was to publicly present and advocate for funding for each of these charities to a panel of community volunteers. At the end of the presentations, each of the students was assigned a grade and the charity represented by the presenter with the most votes was slated to receive a $5,000 donation – approved by the United Way Board of Directors from their Community Impact Grants.

The winning charity was the Autism Transitional Classroom with Chatham-Kent Children’s Services, based on the presentation that was made by student Patrick Hindmarsh.

“I designed this project to not only matter for Grade 12 marks, but to alter the course of their lives”, said Bergsma. “Imagine the impact of these students having a deeper sense of community, greater capacity for empathy, and the empowerment to know how to step outside of their comfort zones and make change happen.”

The Autism Transitional Classroom is planning on using these funds to purchase enhanced learning materials for their classroom.

 

United Way Chatham-Kent raises $1,687,048 to invest in Chatham-Kent

United Way Chatham-Kent announced today that their Annual Campaign has wrapped up, raising $1,687,048. The announcement was made this morning by the 2017 Campaign Chair, Elizabeth Downey-Sunnen, at the Campaign Touchdown Breakfast hosted by the Links of Kent and presented by Solomon Roofing, Advanced Realty Solutions, Ross Insurance Brokers, Inc., 94.3 CKSY FM, 99.1 CKXS FM and YourTV.

The majority of funds raised are donated by individuals in the community or employees who give through a workplace campaign. The rest is raised through corporate gifts and 25 special events such as Blenheim’s Art in the Garden, Harvest Run, Red Feather, 99.1 CKXS FM’S Radio Hostage and Starlight Movie Night.

The United Way serves approximately 40,000 people in the Chatham-Kent area through its 30+ funded programs and services.

In her speech to a packed house, Downey-Sunnen said the campaign team worked together to reach a common goal: to help the community.

“It was an honour to be a part of the United Way campaign. I am very proud of what our community was able to accomplish, thanks to an amazing team effort”, said Downey-Sunnen. “It was an incredible experience and it really opens your eyes to the hardships people in our community face each and every day. I also realize how lucky we are to have organizations like United Way making a difference in the lives of the people living right here in Chatham-Kent. They really do help to bring Hope, Strength, Joy and Belonging to our community.”

Four stories of lives changed were shared – stories of Hope, Strength, Joy and Belonging. Those individuals and families that were featured in the videos received a surprise this morning as local organizations stepped forward to present a special gift in their honour.

Marian Redford, Manager of Community Investment at Union Gas Ltd., presented a $500 cheque to the Solid Rock Café Youth Centre in Tilbury. The donation was made in honour of Rylee Harmsworth who was featured in the “Belonging” video, and will be used for needed centre enhancements and furnishings.

Chris Ovecka, Commercial Account Manager at Programmed Insurance Brokers and a Campaign Cabinet Member, announced the dedication of the Training Room at the United Way Centre for Community Innovation (The 425) as the “Samantha Labute Training Room”. Samantha was featured in the “Hope” video.  This is the first room at The 425 to be named in honour of a Chatham-Kent citizen who is helping to make a difference in the lives of others through small and courageous acts of kindness.

Jason Heuvelmans, Dealer Principal for Blenheim Chevrolet Buick GMC, announced that they will be partnering with the New Beginnings, ABI and Stroke Recovery Association to distribute free bicycle helmets to children on Family Day 2018 to help prevent acquired brain injuries. These helmets are dedicated to Shelby Emery who was featured in the “Joy” video.  What an awesome way to give back to our community.

Spencer Antaya, Marketing Coordinator with TekSavvy Solutions, presented a gift to the VON Kids’ Circle Program which helps children deal with the loss of a loved one. Spencer presented two fully-loaded iPads with art apps, which will allow the program coordinator to use art therapy as a means of helping children to better understand and cope with their grief. The iPads were donated in memory of Pauline Little-Rupert, whose children have benefited from the VON Kids’ Circle Program.

If you haven’t seen the stories of Hope, Strength, Joy and belonging, they can be viewed at www.ChangingLivesCK.ca.

The funds raised during Campaign 2017 will be distributed, locally, almost immediately to  improve lives and build community right here in Chatham-Kent.

Wanna have some fun? The United Way is looking for volunteers to help with Red Feather & Harvest Run!

United Way has a special opportunity for residents of Chatham-Kent to help give back through volunteering their time and talents to help support two of our community’s largest fundraising events this season: the youth-driven Red Feather and the ever-popular Harvest Run.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: As per school board regulations, all volunteers must be 1) over the age of 18 and 2) have been out of high school for at least one full year.

Here’s when and where you can lend a hand:

Tuesday, September 19
What: Dodgeball
Where: St. Clair College Healthplex
Time: 3:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Available Volunteer Duties: Chaperone

Wednesday, September 20
What: Red Feather Trivia
Where: UCC Cafeteria
Time: 3:30 p.m.-6:00 p.m.
Available Volunteer Duties: Chaperone, Score Keeping

Thursday, September 21
What: Red Feather Football Double Header
Where: CK Community Complex
Time: 4:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.
Available Volunteer Duties: Chaperone, Fence Watching, Parking Lot Patrols

Friday, September 22
What: Red Feather Dance hosted by United Way Chatham-Kent
Where: W.I.S.H. Centre
Time: 6:00 p.m.-11:30 p.m.
Available Volunteer Duties: Chaperone, Parking Lot Patrols
TICKETS are available online at: http://bit.ly/2wUZlWR
DISCLAIMER: This event is not a school board affiliated event.

Sunday, September 24
What: Harvest Run
Where: John McGregor Secondary School
Time: 7:00 a.m.-12:00 p.m.
Available Volunteer Duties: Water Stations, Route Marshalls, Registration

To find out more information or to get involved, please contact Michelle Robbins at michelle2@uwock.ca or Erica Kitchen at erica@uwock.ca. Both Michelle and Erica can also be reached at the United Way office by calling (519) 354-0430.