Mayor Richard M. Daley today urged all eligible Chicagoans to apply for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program and take advantage of the free income tax preparation service the City offers to income-eligible residents at 30 sites all across Chicago.
"In this challenging time, it is important that we use every tool and program available to us to help mitigate the crippling effects of the recession," Daley said in a news conference held at Room 100, City Hall, one of the service locations.
The Mayor called the EITC program, which was created in 1975, - probably the most significant anti-poverty program in the United States.
"It enjoys broad support across the political spectrum. It helps put money in the pockets of hard-working Americans who need it now more than ever," he said.
Each year the EITC returns more than $36 billion dollars to the working families of our country, including more than a half-billion dollars that comes back to Chicago to help the people who need our support the most. It provides refunds of up to $4,800 to low-income working families.
"This helps keep our neighborhoods affordable to people of modest means, and it helps the local economy, too, because the money is spent on necessities," Daley said.
However, an EITC refund does not come automatically. Taxpayers must apply for it, which can be a problem for low-income working families who can’t afford accountants and tax attorneys, the Mayor said.
It is estimated that between 15 and 20 percent of eligible workers fail to file for the EITC – missing out on more than $8 billion dollars which is rightfully theirs.
In 2006, about $1.7 billion in all federal tax refunds was returned to Illinois taxpayers. But it is estimated that about 170,000 Illinois taxpayers failed to claim an additional $300 million in refunds.
So for the last ten years, the City and its non-profit partners have conducted a major outreach campaign that includes free tax preparation.
Last year, the service sites served more than 23,000 families and helped them receive more than $31 million dollars in refunds.
This year, the City will operate 30 tax preparation sites. The City Hall location opened January 20. Last year, the City Hall site served 735 clients who secured almost $1 million in refunds.
The rest of the sites open January 24. Most are open on weeknights and Saturdays.
The cutoff income for the EITC is $41,646 for families with more than one child and $15,880 for individuals. In some cases, individuals can receive the EITC even if they do not owe income taxes.
But the city free tax preparation assistance is available for people even above the EITC income eligibility levels.
Families who earned up to $45,000 last year, and individuals who made up to $20,000, can have their taxes prepared for free by volunteers from the Tax Counseling Project and the Tax Assistance Program.
The Mayor encouraged working families to get their taxes done as soon as possible, rather than waiting for the April 15 deadline. Today marked the kick-off of the City's annual outreach campaign to inform Chicagoans of the EITC and the free tax help.
It will include public service announcements on television and radio stations and advertising with the Chicago Transit Authority, Chicago Public Schools and local community newspapers.
The city's non-emergency number – 311 – will be the central point of contact. Information will also be available on the city web site, www.cityofchicago.org and the Internal Revenue Service web site, www.irs.gov.
The Chicago Tax Assistance Center is distributing EITC information from its City Hall office in Room 100. RCN, Peoples Energy, ComEd, Comcast and AT&T are including EITC information with their utility bills. Jewel, Dominick's, and Walgreen’s are providing EITC information in their supermarkets.
Local businesses are mentioning EITC on paycheck stubs, displaying posters and distributing flyers about the program. Chicago Public Schools inserted EITC information in over 430,000 report cards. Information also is available at aldermanic ward offices, branch libraries, schools and Park District facilities.
"We can help Chicagoans get their EITC refund and we can save some of our residents the cost of paying a commercial tax preparer. This year, every dollar government can help them save is important," Daley said.
The mayor also reminded eligible Chicagoans who need financial help paying their heating bills this winter that about $50 million is still available through the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
Residents should call 311 or the Community and Economic Development Agency of Cook County at 800-571-CEDA to find out if they are eligible and to locate the application office nearest them. They can also get help with the LIHEAP program at the city's six Department of Human Services Centers.
Free tax preparation sites are at: