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PE Learning Centre tax clinics will help you overcome fear of filing

Ellis Greenberg, a youth coordinator at the learning centre, says receiving tax benefits are a major part of helping bring people out of poverty. – Thomas Goyer photo

By Thomas Goyer
Free-of-charge tax clinics and related services are putting money in County residents’ pockets, and helping to take the fear out of filing.

“Most people who connect with us make money back,” said Kathy Kennedy, Executive Director at the Prince Edward Learning Centre (PELC). “We do think it will be quite effective helping people financially, long-term.”

One of those people is Bethany MacInnes. She didn’t file her taxes for seven years because she didn’t have the money to pay someone and she couldn’t do it herself. Last year she came to the learning centre for help and filed for all seven years.

MacInnes is pleased she will be receiving $12,000 in returns.

“The PELC broke down a lot of the myths I had around filing taxes,” McGinnis said, during a recent deputation to County Council in support of funding PELC’s plans to expand the financial empowerment programs.

McGinnis explained that some of the medication she takes is expensive and due to the cost, she would only take a weekly medication every other week. Now with her tax return, she said she will be able to afford her medication at the prescribed amounts.

Residents of all ages who make less than $35,000 a year have access to the clinics designed to help file taxes and to make sure they are collecting all benefits they are entitled to.

Ellis Greenberg, a youth coordinator at the learning centre, says receiving tax benefits are a major part of helping bring people out of poverty.

Greenberg said the centre has compiled lists of benefits available from all three levels of government and finds they are are often under-subscribed.

The tax clinics are held by appointment at the Learning Centre in Picton’s Sobey Plaza, and at the Wellington and Consecon branch libraries.

They are part of a broader poverty reduction strategy the learning centre is undertaking. The centre has been doing taxes for about 350 people and Kennedy hopes numbers will expand to 1,000 people the 2019 tax year and 2,500 for the 2020 tax year.

Kennedy said not claiming tax benefits also affects the larger community.

“If they are eligible for that, and they aren’t getting it, that means that money isn’t coming into our community. So as a community it’s important that we keep that economic pump going,” she added.

Kennedy also gave a deputation to council explaining PELC’s various poverty reduction strategies and seeking $35,000 to expand the tax project. The request has been forwarded to municipality’s grant program, handled by The County Foundation.

“I think that council cares about the people that have low income in Prince Edward County and I’m sure they want people to get out and file. I’m looking forward to hearing how they will help with that,” Kennedy said.

She had told council finances are the number one stress for Canadians.

“Forty-one per cent say money is their biggest problem. This rises to 60 per cent of Canadians with incomes under $40,000.”

Municipalities, she said, also pay the price when residents can’t make ends meet.

“Financial insecurity costs cities .3 to .4.6 per cent of their budget,” said Kennedy, noting that on last year’s operating budget of $54,000,000 for PEC, the cost is $162,000 to $2.5 million showing up in evictions, homelessness, food insecurity, family violence, unpaid taxes and utility bills.

Rick Williams, a previous director of Prince Edward and Lennox and Addington Social Services, said Canada’s social safety net is wonderful, but very complex.”

Williams says he undertook a similar tax project in Muskoka and that program had similar goals to the one being done by the learning centre.

“I think that’s quite realistic, the target,” he added. “What the learning centre is proposing is one of the most imaginative tax programs in Ontario.”

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