WASHINGTON—A pilot program that helped deliver tax refunds this year to people with disabilities and to low-income families is expanding nationwide.
The program, a public-private partnership to improve long-term financial independence for people with disabilities, began last year in four cities: New York, Boston, Wichita, Kan., and West Palm Beach, Fla.
Next year the program, dubbed the Real Economic Impact Tour, will expand to 54 cities, including Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Boise, Idaho. The cities were selected based on their population of people with disabilities, the strength of groups there already helping people with disabilities and their geographic diversity, Michael Morris, the director of the National Disability Institute, said in announcing the program's expansion Tuesday at the National Press Club.
"We project the 2007 Real Economic Impact Tour will assist over 25,000 persons with disabilities and generate over $20 million in earned income tax-credit refunds, which will in turn impact economies in participating cities," Morris and Terry Simonette, the chief executive officer and president of NCB Capital Impact, one of the partners in the campaign, said in a statement.
The program will help Americans with disabilities file for the earned income tax credit, a refundable credit for low-income parents. Even more important, Morris said, the program aims to provide financial education. The passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990 addressed civil rights and discrimination, but helping people with disabilities get a handle on their finances was left out of the conversation, Morris said.
The coordinated effort among cities, nonprofits and federal organizations to make financial education more accessible begins Oct. 31, when the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. unveils a money-management program in large print and Braille.
Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas started collaborating in 2005 with the city of Wichita, the United Way, the local IRS office and AARP to help people with disabilities complete tax-refund forms. Because of that work, Wichita was selected to be a part of the campaign, which was funded by the Ford Foundation.
"I'd like to say we are the heart of America," said Wichita Mayor Carlos Mayans, who was recognized Tuesday for the city's leadership. "Disability is all relevant. We are all disabled in some way."
People could go to 12 Volunteer in Tax Assistance sites in Wichita to complete the forms. The number of Wichita filers with disabilities increased 67 percent from 2005 to 2006.
William Mickel, a benefits specialist with Cerebral Palsy Research Foundation of Kansas who helped people prepare their tax forms, told the story of a man he'd helped who'd grown accustomed to long waits for tax refunds. Soon after meeting with Mickel, the man found a $600 tax refund in his bank account. He told Mickel that he planned on using the service in the future, calling it "satisfaction guaranteed."
Berjearlene Nelson, who's legally blind and represented West Palm Beach in the discussion, said she'd heard about the Volunteer in Tax Assistance sites this year and loved the help she got. She said she was able to buy her first house.
"I no longer feel disabled," she said. "I feel very able."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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