Last night I had one of what I hope will be many enriching experiences this tax season. I filed my first tax refund for the 2007 tax season. Grant it, it took me 40 minutes to do, but I got it done. My site coordinator said, "I will get faster each time I due one." I'm sure she's right. This year I'm volunteering at the San Jose VITA tax clinic in New Haven, CT. The site is in the heart of one of New Haven's Hispanic/Latino communities.
The last time I volunteered was in 2005. This free service is great for individuals who make less than $45,000 a year. We make sure that individuals claim their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), if they are eligible. Today, the EITC is one of the largest anti-poverty tools in the United States (despite the fact that income measures, including the poverty rate, generally do not account for the credit).
Right now things are slow, but as we get closer to the filing deadline for U.S taxpayers (April 15, 2008), more and more people will start to show up.
The woman I assisted last night primary language was Spanish, so I had the assistance of an interpreter. I thought to myself, I really need to consider learning to speak another language. The woman had filed her taxes with the VITA site last year and all her information was in the computer. One would think that would have made my job faster, but I had to get used to all the forms all over again. I kept wondering if the woman thought I was an idiot for taking so long. I doubt she felt that way, she seemed very grateful and even thanked me in English.
On my way home I couldn't help but think, how does this woman provide for her two children making less than 20,000 dollars a year. I wondered if she had health care for herself or her children, how rising energy costs effects her, and is she registered to vote. Making less than$20,000 a year is not enough to support an individual let alone a family. Just a few years ago, I was making less about 20,000 and I was barely keeping my head a float and I was living at home. Thanks mom! I guess people make due and make what they get work, but they should not have to live so close to the poverty line.
Connecticut may be one of the nations wealthiest states, but that wealth is not seen by many of its residents. My nutmeg state has extreme poverty, especially child poverty. It won't be seen in communities like Greenwich, Wilton, Westport, Southbury, Darien, Avon, or West Hartford, just to name a few, instead you'll find it in cities such as New Haven, Hartford, Bridgeport, Waterbury and Danbury, but only if you want to see it.
I think the federal EITC is a start, but it's not enough. Government can and should do more and so should its citizens. That's right, you and me. Last year poverty advocates tried to pass a CT EITC, unfortunately it fell flat in the legislative. The poverty that exists in the United States and throughout the world is a travesty. I believe there's no need for it. As a nation, we are only as strong as our weakest link. We need to help lift immigrants and the working-class poor out of poverty. If citizens and government continue to ignore the issue of poverty, then we will continue to see other social ills which are linked to poverty increase.
My volunteering is only a small piece in this gigantic puzzle, however it's a start and it's got me thinking about the bigger picture. I hope it does the same for you.