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News & Events

News & Events

Tax program pours millions into local economy.

A tax program spearheaded by a community-based initiative of the Niagara Prosperity Initiative (NPI) is pouring millions of dollars into the local economy with the help of dozens of volunteers. NPI is funded by Niagara Region and convened by the Niagara Community Foundation.

The co-operative venture among several community organizations allowed hundreds of low-income Niagara residents to easily fill out their 2013 income tax returns through Canada Revenue Agency's Canadian Volunteer Income Tax program, qualifying each of them for hundreds of dollars of tax rebates and, for those with children, Child Tax Benefits.

Many low-income Canadians may think they don't have to fill out an income tax return if they don't make enough money to pay income taxes, said Liz Palmieri, executive director of the Niagara Community Foundation, whose organization helped co-ordinate the Niagara-wide push to file tax returns.

But many forms of social assistance are based on tax return data, so even if you don't earn enough to pay taxes, everyone needs to file a return, said Rick Merritt, convener of Niagara Poverty Reduction Network. Merritt calculated that millions of dollars of federal and provincial benefits for local residents were potentially going unclaimed because people weren't filing tax returns.

In addition to the HST rebates and child benefits, a tax return is needed to qualify for certain Trillium Benefits or affordable housing, Merritt said. "As a Niagara community, we were missing out on provincial and federal entitlements that were putting undue pressure on Niagara Region programs and the local tax base," he said.

Merritt convened a task force of community leaders, including Terri Bruce and Cody Palmer of Niagara 211, Carol Stewart-Kirkby of United Way Niagara Falls & Greater Fort Erie and Renni Piscitelli of Niagara Falls Outreach. The task force identified the gaps in service and created a strategy for meeting the need. Volunteer tax preparers were recruited and trained, and dozens of new tax clinic days were scheduled. Hundreds of 2013 returns were filed.

People can still file tax returns after the April deadline, said Stewart-Kirkby, so even if you've missed the deadline, it's worth filing a return.

Now that most 2013 tax returns are done, the task force members say more volunteers are needed for 2014 returns. Volunteers don't need to have any prior bookkeeping or tax preparation experience, Bruce said. The returns are filed through a simple computer program and training is provided by the Canada Revenue Agency.

Groups across Niagara who are interested in joining the volunteer tax program as a host site just need to dial 211 to reach Niagara 211. Low-income residents can also call Niagara 211 to find out about available host sites.

The extra entitlements are good for the local economy because extra money in the pockets of low-income residents is spent on things like rent, food or clothing, Merritt said. "This is a great example of Niagara pulling together to create a local solution," he said.
 
Media contact: Rick Merritt, NPI Convener, Niagara Community Foundation 905-329-3518


Tax program pours millions into local economy.