Continuing their work in support of the Earned Income Tax Credit bill, members of the Yale College Democrats attended a press conference on Volunteer Income Tax Assistance held in Hartford on Monday. The bill is scheduled to be discussed on the floor of the state Senate in the near future.
Speakers announced a 36.5 percent increase in tax filings made this year through VITA, a federal program introduced to New Haven by the Mayor’s Office to ensure that low-income families in New Haven receive the full benefits of the federal EITC. In addition, they spoke to the importance of a state EITC, which has been included in the Finance Committee’s tax package for this legislative session.
The EITC is a tax credit, which already exists on a federal level and in 19 states, including every state in New England except Connecticut, that refunds a percentage of income tax to low-income residents who are currently employed. A bill to establish an EITC in Connecticut has received continued support from the College Democrats.
“It’s an amazing policy in that it helps fight poverty but it also encourages people to work,” said Eric Kafka ’08, a member of the College Democrats and Connecticut Students for Just Taxation. “It’s an earned income tax credit, so it only goes to people who have jobs and who are working to support their families. If it is the responsibility of people to work then I believe it is the responsibility of the government to make sure people who do go out and are working have a steady income and are able to support their families.”
YCD President Brendan Gants ’08 spoke at the press conference on the role of student activism in the effort to get a state EITC bill passed.
“When we started out, the consensus was that it wouldn’t really pass this year, and our goal was to get a hearing with one committee,” he said. “Since then we’ve had hearings in two committees, and it’s now before the whole floor. It’s been really gratifying to see how much progress it’s made in one session, a short session at that, but the fight’s not over. We still have to get it signed into law before the session ends.”
EITC supporters said they hoped holding the press conference on the deadline for tax filing would highlight the effectiveness of the VITA program, as well as demonstrate support for a statewide EITC. The VITA program offers tax assistance to individuals with earnings below $38,000 who cannot prepare their own tax returns. The program was established in New Haven four years ago through the creation of the New Haven Economic Security Council.
“This tax season our VITA coalition has already placed $353,946 in Earned Income Tax Credit dollars in the hands of the families who need it most,” Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said in a press release. “A state EITC is a simple, smart and effective way to build upon the federal EITC to help working families make ends meet and stimulate the economy at the same time.”
Although both the Yale College Democrats and Yale College Republicans support the state EITC, response to the bill has historically been mixed. Many politicians feel that a state EITC would add unnecessary complexity to the tax code. When the bill first gained support from the New Haven Board of Aldermen earlier this year, state Rep. Richard O. Belden, a Republican from Shelton and deputy minority leader-at-large, voiced his objections.
“I’m somewhat against all these tax credits, and I think we ought to have an up-front tax structure that’s stable and predictable,” he said.
But Yale College Republicans President Richard Kearney ’07 said his group favors enacting an EITC in Connecticut similar to the federal EITC.
This year, VITA has expanded from two New Haven sites to six and has helped nearly 600 working people file their taxes.
“We’ve had some growing pains this year, but by expanding we were able to reach more people in different populations inside the city and in different neighborhoods,” Kate McAdams ’01, a policy associate for the city of New Haven, said. “We’re really poised for a great success next year, now that we’ve got some of the kinks worked out. We’ve got some great people and some committed volunteers.”
The NHESC is composed of several organizations, including the Community Action Agency, Junta, Yale University, Empower New Haven and the National Student Partnerships. The coalition has about 40 volunteers, including city employees, a cross section of city residents and Yale students. Some volunteers have tax preparation experience, but all attend a tax preparation training seminar before beginning to volunteer.
“It is nice because the results are so concrete,” VITA volunteer Celia Choy ’07 said. “You know that when you help a single working mother claim the earned income credit and child tax credits that she is entitled to, that it will make a difference in her family’s life. Not only do people save on tax preparation fees and avoid predatory lending practices, but they can claim tax credits that they might not have known about.”
As of last week, Choy said, VITA sites have helped New Haven residents claim over $1 million in Earned Income Credits and over $400,000 in Child Tax Credits.