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Progress on the Go mobile unit delivers free tax returns
March 23, 2017
Large mobile vehicles have become increasingly popular with, for example, medical-related organizations to reach individuals with services that they otherwise would need to access in another village or city.
Tis’ the season for filing income tax returns, and the Center for Economic Progress (CEP) has a similar mindset—they’re reaching out to people seeking help with completing their 2016 tax returns by going directly to them with their mobile unit.
The CEP’s Progress on the Go financial empowerment center mobile unit, with the slogan, “Free financial tune-ups inside,” visited Maywood last Saturday morning, parking next to the Maywood multipurpose building on 5th Avenue.
Inside, individuals who make under $30,000 per year or households that earn less than $55,000 per year (single parents with children also are considered heads of households) can have their tax returns prepared free of charge by volunteers, or inquire about other financial-related services offered by the CEP. The mobile unit features the latest in computer technology, along with space for private, bilingual tax service and financial education.
The CEP and its volunteers have been preparing taxes for those who qualify for the past 25 years, but the mobile unit was rolled out as a new feature this year. The mobile unit visited the Maywood multipurpose building for the first time on Feb. 18. It also will be stopping by and offering similar services at the Proviso Math and Science Academy from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 1, and at Proviso East High School from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Saturday, April 15. All west Cook County residents who qualify are welcome.
Many of the clients who attended Saturday’s event had already signed up online, noted Melanie Arceo, site manager for the Progress on the Go mobile unit. They brought with them necessary tax documents—W-2s and 1099s, Social Security Cards or Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITIN) for all family members, a valid photo ID, a copy of their tax return from 2015 (if available), property tax bills, the amount spend on college expenses (if any) and checking and savings account and routing numbers to direct deposit a refund from the IRS. But, she added, “we still accept walk-ins,” who hopefully have brought their tax documents with them. If not, these individuals are asked to re-schedule.
“Part of the effort is to reach out to more clients,” Arceo said. “This is a very innovative project. Instead of having a regular tax site, we’re going in places that lack the services, and that’s why we have the bus (mobile unit).”
“We have clients that have been coming to us for 10 years and they know the drill,” said Sylvia Ewing, director of communications and marketing for the CEP. “So they know what to bring and they know what to expect. We’re a volunteer income tax assistance program certified by the IRS,” she added. “We have over 600 volunteers. We work with banks throughout the region, and at any different site there may be people there with different information with community groups.” A few CEP board members volunteered their services on Saturday, Ewing mentioned.
“We have site managers like Melaine who keep us organized,” she said. “Year round we offer services to help with your savings or if you’re a first-time employee, we help you figure out your money. And build up your credit.”
The Progress on the Go mobile unit is a partnership between the CEP, the village of Maywood with Mayor Edwenna Perkins and village trustees and the Hillside-based Monroe Foundation.
The Monroe Foundation is a community development advocacy organization in its 26th year. The foundation facilitates community development partnerships between stakeholder organizations and municipalities like Maywood, and financial institutions that are looking for opportunities to become vested in initiatives that promote financial capability, community development and investment.
The Monroe Foundation helped promote Saturday’s event, with funding support from U.S. Bank and PNC Bank.
“When we became familiar with the Progress on the Go mobile tax initiative vehicle, and that they were focusing on west Cook County, we offered to partner with the Center for Economic Progress because of our relationship with the Village of Maywood, Mayor Perkins and the trustees,” said Otis Chandler Monroe III, CEO of The Monroe Foundation. “We have been hosting home ownership events for two years in Maywood, so it just made sense to collaborate.”
The CEP does work with clients who qualify for an Earned Income Tax Credit. Ewing pointed out that many clients get 30 percent of their annual income “through income in an Earned Income Tax Credit refund.” She explained that this is an “unusual year” because if a person claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit or Additional Child Tax Credit (ACTC) on his or her tax return, the IRS had to hold their refund until Feb. 15 (even the portion not associated with the EITC or ACTC, according to the IRS).
“It wasn’t made until after Feb. 15 because there were scams,” said Ewing, explaining the delay in the refunds. “That’s why they pushed back the refund for those who are getting the EITC. But they’re getting it now; it was only delayed for a bit. The government did a good job of saying don’t expect your refund too fast, but it also made people not file.
“A lot of people kind of waited to file (this year). That worries us because the longer you wait, there’s a chance that someone else might file under your name or you might take out a risky loan. So we encourage people to get their filing done, and we’ll be doing that until April 18.”