$1.8 million found in Chandler; IRS and City involved
There's no denying the excitement that comes with finding money, as with the recent phenomenon of unknown persons tweeting out clues to the location of cash-filled envelopes hidden in public places.
A similar phenomenon on a much larger scale occurred recently in Chandler, but the whole thing went relatively unnoticed except by the beneficiaries. Over a 76-day period ending in mid-April, 1,636 individuals and families found $1,847,000.
There were no euphoric 'selfies' posted on Twitter or displays of exuberance aired on local TV, but grateful smiles were plentiful and an occasional "hallelujah!" could be heard.
The found money came in the form of tax refunds to low and moderate-income families served by Chandler's Voluntary Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA). Clues to the money's whereabouts was discerned from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) tax code and extracted by 56 unpaid, refund-hunting tax preparers.
The IRS-trained volunteers are the unsung heroes in this story, helping Chandler area families collect more than $10.5 million in tax refunds since 2004. This spring, VITA volunteers donated more than 4,200 hours of their time to help people qualify for tax credits that frequently go unclaimed.
"I had a volunteer tell me that on three different occasions they were able to file a $500 Arizona Property Tax Refund for a person who had no idea they were eligible," said Jeanne Bosarge, a VITA volunteer and City employee who organizes Chandler's annual taxpayer assistance effort. "These credits go to senior citizens with incomes of under $5,500 a year who are usually getting by on Social Security alone. The volunteer said that every one of those occasions was a cause for celebration by the recipient."
Another tax credit frequently overlooked is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) that one in five eligible taxpayers fail to claim each year. Over the past 11 tax seasons, Chandler's VITA Program has helped families collect $3.6 million in EITC credit. Statewide in 2013, 565,000 families received $1.4 billion in EITC credits.
"Our gratitude goes out to everyone who has contributed to the success of this program," Chandler Mayor Jay Tibshraeny said. "It has far exceeded our expectations thanks to those who have graciously volunteered their time and experience over the past decade."
The EITC helps working people keep more of what they've earned. Those failing to claim the credit typically include people who have earned income but may not have a filing requirement, are non-English speakers, are homeless, childless or live in rural areas.
For the 2013 tax season, working families with incomes as high as $52,000 were eligible for EITC credits of up to $6,044 per household. The impact of the refunds goes far beyond those first claiming it, finding its way into the cash registers of local merchants and used for expenses such as rent payments, car repairs and school tuition. According to the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, EITC lifted 6.5 million Americans out of poverty last tax season, including 3.3 million children.
The success of Chandler's program is attributed to the efforts of numerous volunteers, the IRS and community partners that include First Credit Union, Chandler Christian Community Center, Chandler CARE Center, Sun Lakes Country Club, Buddhist Tzu Chi Foundation and Chandler-Gilbert Community College, all of which provide facilities, staff or equipment.