Just Harvest helps low income residents with free tax preparation
Rose Taylor sits patiently in the waiting room of Just Harvest, one of the hundreds of low-income individuals who have come in the past month to take advantage of the free tax services available.
Ms. Taylor is returning for the fourth year, and she gives only praise for this program that benefits many Allegheny County residents.
As a Mount Washington resident, she explains the convenience of the service, "I come back here because the people are nice and they get as much back in refunds for you as possible. I'm in and out. There's no drawn out process. [Just Harvest] does as much as they can to help you out.
"I recommend it to everyone. The preparers are very nice and they explain things. They know the intricacies of tax laws to get the most allowable money back possible. The first time I came here, I got $600 back!"
In just the first month of Just Harvest's "Give Paychecks a Boost" free tax assistance campaign, more than $1 million in tax refunds have been put back into the pockets of low-income families. Sixty-four percent of these 450 clients are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, totaling more than $580,000. By the end of the tax season, Just Harvest expects to help workers get over $2.5 million in refunds.
The refunds are beneficial in supplementing clients' incomes. When asked what she will do with her refund, Ms. Taylor says she will use it "to have my car fixed. I've used the refund a couple of times to have my car fixed. I'll use it for household things."
Antoinette Eyth of Beechview lists the different things she hopes to use her refund for: "To tithe to my church, put a decent amount towards my car payment, use some for my daughter and her schooling, and the rest I will save and use as I need."
With some clients receiving thousands of dollars in refunds from qualifying for the EITC, it is quite possible for clients like Ms. Eyth to be able to meet basic expenses with their refunds.
Just Harvest has been running its tax campaign for the past six years. Low-income workers often are unaware that they qualify for several tax credits such as the Earned Income Credit, Child Tax Credit, and Pennsylvania Tax Forgiveness. The Earned Income Credit (EITC) permits low-income families to get up to $4,716 back in refunds. Families with two children that earn less than $37,783 are eligible for the EITC. Families with one child or workers without children can also be eligible if they meet the income requirements.
Just Harvest is a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site. The free services offered to low-income workers ensure they get the refunds they are entitled to.
Just Harvest is also educating its clients on some changes to tax programs at the state and federal level. The first change is being made to a local tax, previously known as the EMS tax. Up until this year, employers have taken out $52 from an employee's first paycheck. Thanks in part to Just Harvest's efforts, employers are instead withholding $1 a week through the Local Services Tax, instead of taking out the entire $52 from the employee's first paycheck. Employees earning less than $12,000 a year will be exempt from this tax.
As tax preparers complete taxes at Just Harvest's office, they discuss these changes to make sure employers are following the new guidelines since many are not aware of the changes. The Local Services Tax makes it fairer for low-income workers, and enables them to more easily budget throughout the year.
Rose Taylor describes it best when she says, "I think [they're] great. Anyone with an ounce of a brain of a gnat would come and get their taxes done at Just Harvest."
By Miranda Spiro
Just Harvest Intern