'Heart of prosperity'

A community campaign aims to arm low-income families with an economic education

Published: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 16, 2005 at 2:01 a.m.
Very often on this page, particularly during election season, there is much rhetoric about "tax cuts for the wealthy." But it is worth noting, especially this time of the year, that the federal tax code was also written with the needs of the working poor in mind.
In fact, low-income residents can qualify for tax refunds under the federal earned income and child care tax credits, even if they had little or no taxes withheld during the year. And although billions of dollars can be returned to communities across America thanks to the earned income tax credit, eligible families do not always take advantage of the opportunity to increase their incomes. Sometimes, those who are eligible for refunds are not even aware of it.
The Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign is a communitywide initiative aimed at helping low-income residents take full advantage of the earned income and child care tax credits. The campaign is being conducted by the East Gainesville Development Corporation under the sponsorship of a broad-based coalition that includes the city of Gainesville and Alachua County, the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College, the United Way, the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and many other local churches, businesses and community organizations.
The campaign's objective, says its chair, Odetta MacLeish-White, is "to put more money back into the pockets of Alachua County's families by providing free tax-return preparation and offering financial empowerment information to help turn the higher refunds that are available into true financial assets.
"Using those refunds to start a savings account or make a down payment on a home contributes to lasting, positive changes to a family's financial health," she said. "Last year, the average tax credit refund for a return prepared by (the campaign) was $1,500 - that is like getting a raise at the end of the year."
Communities that have mounted similar efforts have discovered that maximizing the use of earned income tax and child care credits can help lift families out of poverty and stimulate investment and economic activity in inner-city neighborhoods. We commend all of the partners who have joined together to help launch the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign.
The campaign will formally begin its nearly three-month long effort on Friday, Jan. 21 at Eden Park at Ironwood, 1330 NE 39th Ave., at 5 p.m. Last year, the campaign helped local residents receive $150,000 in tax returns. This year, the goal is to reach $500,000. The campaign's ultimate goal is not simply to bring more federal money into the community, but to teach families how best to use those dollars to help establish long-term financial security.
This year, the Corporation for National and Community Service is urging Americans to honor Martin Luther King Jr.'s legacy by volunteering for community service: tutoring children, doing neighborhood repairs, serving the hungry and homeless or engaging in any number of other activities. Worthy community improvement efforts - the Heart of Florida Prosperity Campaign is an excellent example - simply cannot succeed without the efforts of a great many volunteers. We urge our readers to celebrate King's memory by offering their time and talents to the cause of their choice.
"Life's persistent and most urgent question is, 'What are you doing for others?'" King once said. It remains an excellent question to this day.

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