ONE OF THE first requests I received as mayor of Philadelphia came as a bit of a surprise: Help empower Philadelphia residents to benefit from the more than $100 million in federal earned income tax credit (EITC) they have earned, yet stands to go unclaimed this tax season.
I realize that every year, because of the lack of filing or incomplete filing, some Americans miss out on tax refunds or credits they might deserve. But the fact that Philadelphia residents alone could account for over $100 million of unclaimed EITC funds stood out to me as a huge issue that needs fixing . . . and one that can be corrected quickly!
The good news is that 188,000 Philadelphians who are eligible for EITC do apply and receive up to $6,242 as a result of their efforts. However, 40,000 eligible Philadelphia residents do not apply for the EITC. With the average refund being $2,400, that means about $100 million is being left on the table.
The EITC is designed to support working people who make low to moderate incomes (up to $53,267, annually depending on filing status and number of dependents). The Philadelphians who qualify for the federal EITC work hard. Many of them are challenged to make ends meet, support their loved ones, and provide a quality life for their families. Whether it's a few hundred dollars or a couple of thousand, this extra money can make a huge difference in their lives. And, it's likely to be money that goes directly back into the local economy of the city.
It's imperative that we not only make people aware that this credit is available, but that we also offer support to help them file on time and correctly.
"You Earned It" is the Department of Revenue's solution to generating awareness and encouraging more EITC-eligible residents to apply for the refunds they deserve. It's an aggressive campaign, because we, the city, are serious about helping our citizens find and participate in programs such as the EITC that will improve their lives.
One of the most powerful opportunities the program offers is free tax-preparation services for eligible Philadelphia residents. The city has partnered with the Campaign for Working Families and PathWays PA to make tax preparation available for free from IRS-certified preparers. Nearly 30 locations are open now for these services, many convenient to public transportation, and offer morning, evening and Saturday hours, and allow for drop-off service. Again, we're doing all we can to accommodate busy schedules and make it as easy as people for people to file.
In addition to free preparation services, the Department of Revenue has a multilingual website at www.YouEarnedItPhilly.com and hotline (215-686-9200). These resources offer all the information needed for a Philadelphia resident to see whether he or she is eligible for the EITC, learn what needs to be done to claim the credit, and to locate a free tax prep site.
I can't emphasize enough how important it is that people who are eligible for the EITC apply sooner rather than later; don't wait until the April 18 filing deadline. We'd even like to see people who didn't do so in 2012, 2013 and/or 2014 file or amend their returns (that deadline is April 15). You can get refunds for up to three prior years - potentially tens of thousands of dollars. It's important for the individuals and families who could benefit from EITC refunds - and it's important to our city's economy, our growth and our future.
Jim Kenney is the mayor of Philadelphia.