City tax ser­vice boosts re­funds

Free as­sis­tance helps 18K more res­i­dents claim in­come credit

The Detroit News - - Front Page - BY JO KROEKER The Detroit News jkroeker@de­troit­news.com

With help from Detroit’s free tax prepa­ra­tion ser­vices, Mo­riah Allen, 25, could buy a car, pay off some debts, fill her fridge and feel se­cure dur­ing her un­paid ma­ter­nity leave.

Allen is one of 92,403 Detroi­ters who filed for Earned In­come Tax Credit re­funds in the 2016-17 tax sea­son. She said she earned back more this year, with help from vol­un­teers, than last year, when she did her taxes her­self.

The city of Detroit cred­ited the 5-month-old ini­tia­tive for the ad­di­tional 18,150 who filed for re­funds and claimed on av­er­age $4,083.75, reach­ing a grand to­tal of $74.1 mil­lion in re­funds from state and fed­eral gov­ern­ments.

“In­di­vid­u­als can sow back into the econ­omy, by pay­ing mort­gages, buy­ing trans­porta­tion and putting food on the ta­ble,” said Lisa Howze, Detroit di­rec­tor of leg­isla­tive af­fairs and EITC cam­paign co­or­di­na­tor.

Modeled on a sim­i­lar ini­tia­tive in New York, the pro­gram was im­ple­mented to con­nect Detroi­ters with $80 mil­lion in an­nual un­claimed tax re­funds.

Detroit, how­ever, did four times bet­ter than New York City in its first year of im­ple­men­ta­tion, said Rose Gill Hearn, prin­ci­pal of Bloomberg As­so­ciates.

“There are many amaz­ing things hap­pen­ing in Detroit,” Gill Hearn said. “This is now one of them.”

The city part­nered with the Ac­count­ing Aid So­ci­ety, United Way for South­east­ern Michi­gan and Bloomberg As­so­ciates on the ini­tia­tive.

Detroi­ters could file re­motely through a vir­tual por­tal called “Drop and Go” that United Way set up or make ap­point­ments with AAS vol­un­teers, who filed taxes for Detroi­ters so they could max­i­mize their re­turns.

Kath­leen Hatke Aro, pres­i­dent of the Ac­count­ing Aid So­ci­ety, joked that tax sea­son is never over for ac­coun­tants, but she en­cour­aged Detroi­ters to keep fil­ing. She said it’s still pos­si­ble to work with vol­un­teers at any AAS sites.

“We hope to see some peo­ple in our of­fices this sum­mer,” she said.

Delores Jones, a street main­te­nance driver for the De­part­ment of Pub­lic Works, moon­lights as a vol­un­teer tax pre­parer.

“This sum­mer, I need to see those W-2s,” she said. “Yes, y’all, this is re­ally free tax prepa­ra­tion.”

The city also an­nounced the U.S. Bureau of La­bor Sta­tis­tics’ un­em­ploy­ment num­bers for May 2017. Per the bureau, Detroit’s un­em­ploy­ment rate in May was 7.5 per­cent, down from 8.4 per­cent in April. It is the low­est the city has seen since De­cem­ber 2000, when the job­less rate was 6.1 per­cent.

In those two months, 2,400 Detroi­ters took jobs, bring­ing the to­tal of new em­ployed res­i­dents up to 18,000 since Jan­uary 2014, when the city’s un­em­ploy­ment rate was 17.6 per­cent.

Grow­ing in­dus­tries in Detroit are in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy, ad­vanced man­u­fac­tur­ing, con­struc­tion and skilled trades, health care and re­tail, hospi­tal­ity and en­ter­tain­ment, said Jeff Donofrio, di­rec­tor of work­force de­vel­op­ment.

“Detroit is out­pac­ing the state and the na­tion,” Donofrio said. “But there are still a lot of chal­lenges and still a lot of work to be done.”

To en­cour­age this growth, Donofrio said the city has built 11 pro­grams to re­move bar­ri­ers like trans­porta­tion, child care and a lack of hard and soft skills to con­nect job seek­ers with em­ploy­ers.

One such pro­gram is a tech hire pro­gram that teaches cod­ing, web de­vel­op­ment and net­work ad­min­is­tra­tion. Oth­ers im­prove lit­er­acy, im­prove path­ways af­ter K-12 ed­u­ca­tion and teach soft skills like cri­sis and con­flict man­age­ment and ap­pro­pri­ate work­place be­hav­ior.

For more in­for­ma­tion, he said visit de­troi­tat­work.com, a web­site that “cuts through the nose for job seek­ers and em­ploy­ers.”

Detroit News file

Detroit un­em­ploy­ment fell to 7.5 per­cent in May, the city’s low­est rate since De­cem­ber 2000.

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