The first time I heard the term “continuum of care” applied to housing, it was in the context of helping people experiencing homelessness. The “continuum” describes people going from living on the street to staying with friends to getting into an apartment. This last stage is described as “permanently housed” but to those of us who work with low- and even moderate-income people, that is a misnomer. We know that one job loss, major medical bill, or other setback can leave people vulnerable to losing their so-called “permanent” housing. On the other hand, those who have housing-sustaining employment and are able to manage their finances well can put themselves in a position to move up the continuum. That may mean taking steps toward home ownership or being able to stay in an apartment knowing where their next rent payment is coming from. In my work at Granite United Way, I direct a program that uses the tax-filing process as a means to build that financial stability.
Granite United Way and its partners will again offer free income tax preparation in the 2019 filing season. Most people will qualify for VITA, the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which provides free tax preparation at community sites including Concord, Manchester, Laconia, Franklin and the Upper Valley. Those who prepare their own returns can also file for free with an annual income up to $66,000 through MyFreeTaxes.com. This self-filing platform also includes a robust Frequently Asked Questions section that can help people through the many tax law changes that went into effect in 2018 under the Tax Cuts & Jobs Act.
Among the biggest changes are a near-doubling of the standard deduction, an amount anyone can subtract from their income before calculating their taxes, and the doubling to $2,000 of the child tax credit for parents of children under age 17. This will be offset, in whole or in part by the elimination of the personal and dependency exemption, which allowed people an additional deduction for themselves and their dependent children.
Returning this year is Save Your Refund, a national promotion that allows anyone claiming a tax refund to build savings and be eligible for cash prizes. Random drawings during tax season will be held by SaveYourRefund.com for 10 weekly prizes of $100 for anyone who puts at least $50 in a savings account, savings bond or other savings product at the time of tax filing and puts the rest into a checking account or receives a paper check. At the end of tax season, two grand prizes of $10,000 each will be awarded. Last tax season, Cassandra Tate of Laconia (pictured below with her son) was one of the two grand prize winners. Cassandra put herself through school, and now the single mother is planning to start her own business. She is also working with HOMEteam on first-time homebuying.
Helping people such as Cassandra is the most gratifying part of my work at Granite United Way. It wouldn’t be possible without resources such as HOMEteam, the financial education arm of CATCH, NeighborWorks Southern NH and Lakes Region Community Developers. Their housing counseling and assistance with credit repair and basics of building a saving and spending plan, coupled with affordable housing options offered by CATCH and partners such as NH Housing Finance Authority, allow an expansion of free tax preparation into a package of year-round efforts to provide financial empowerment.
That is why I support CATCH Neighborhood Housing and am proud to serve on its board, providing input to the policy-making, advocacy, and oversight of efforts to ensure that everyone is able to have a safe and affordable place to call home.
Cary Gladstone is Senior Director of Asset Building Strategies at Granite United Way. He also chairs the CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings & Hope) Coalition of New Hampshire and is Secretary of CATCH’s Board of Directors.