Four times a year our United Way encourages agency representatives to meet to exchange information, ideas and challenges.  It is a great way to learn about what is happening in both Fort Erie and Niagara Falls and helps us to maximize resources like volunteers and meeting spaces.

At the March 2013 Niagara Falls gathering, one of the agency staff noted the increasing demand for Community Volunteer Income Tax Preparation (CVITP) clinics and estimated that about 250 people had to be turned away from the Niagara Falls location.  Were others observing this trend? If so, what could we do about it?

At the next meeting of the Niagara Poverty Reduction Network (NPRN), the question was asked: “Do we need more appointments in Niagara for low income folks to file their taxes free of charge and thereby access benefits like the HST rebate; the Ontario Trillium Benefit; and Ontario Senior Homeowners’ Property Tax Grant?”  The resounding reply was YES.  The group felt that possibly millions of dollars were not being accessed in Niagara because people living on low incomes (a) did not know they should file a tax return and (b) there were not enough CVITP appointments.

With this clear endorsement, a small group of NPRN members worked with Information Niagara to offer a community meeting with representatives of Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) as a way to share details about the CVITP program and gauge interest in expanding opportunities. More than 30 people attended, representing 23 different organizations.  A second meeting provided information on how to become a CVITP host, how to recruit volunteers and how to use the CVITP toolkit.  A third, half-day session was offered on screening volunteers.

We posted the volunteer opportunity on Information Niagara’s Volunteer Connections website page and provided volunteers with online training opportunities.  We downloaded the software and applied for an efile registration. Information Niagara booked all appointments through 211 and every appointment at our April dates was filled – with four May dates now added to our schedule!  We anticipate that this targeted activity will result in more CVITP tax returns from Niagara, and CRA has agreed to share data later this year to help verify this hypothesis. In very round numbers, we expect to help people file 160 returns.  At a minimum, if each return generates $500, our volunteers are responsible for $80,000 coming back into the Niagara community.  Not a bad result for a few hours of organizing and 61 hours of volunteer time!

From our organization’s perspective, getting directly involved in offering CVITP clinics was a logical outcome of our work from the fall of 2013, and a concrete way to support the financial literacy of Niagara residents (i.e. enabling residents to use knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions).

To hear more about Financial Literacy in Niagara, view the June 4th, 2014 webinar recording: Building a Financial Literacy Toolkit for Community Service Workers in Niagara.

Carol Stewart-Kirkby
Executive Director
United Way of Niagara Falls & Greater Fort Erie

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