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Federal Government to the rescue of a welfare mother in Portland, OR

Former welfare mother, Cassandra Garrison, went from a longtime renter to homeowner in 2003 because of a $3,000 check from the federal government and good advice from a friend: Buy a home.

Now Garrison, a single mother, is a homeowner and a landlord in Southeast Portland’s Lents neighborhood.

“I never, ever, never thought I’d be able to do that,” says Garrison, public policy director for the Oregon Food Bank. “We struggled for so long.”

In her case, the federal government’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which was created during the Reagan administration, did what it intended. It helped push her out of the hand-to-mouth poverty cycle.

But year after year, tens of thousands of Portland-area workers don’t chase after the money that could help them get out of debt or buy a home.

Even though various agencies, such as AARP, offer free tax-return clinics, dealing with the IRS still can seem complicated, frustrating and intimidating. And some employees believe they earn too little to bother filling out a tax return.

That’s probably why $33 million in annual Earned Income Tax Credits is going unclaimed by folks in Multnomah, Clackamas and Washington counties. Around Oregon, the number is more like $75 million a year.

“That’s a lot of money to leave on the table,” says Jim Harper, a longtime business executive who now runs a 2-month-old nonprofit called CASH Oregon—which stands for Creating Assets, Savings and Hope.

The agency wants to put more money into the hands of people who need it. But it also intends to teach low-income people how to repair their credit, build a savings account and develop better spending habits, so they don’t have to depend on payday-loan offers, which tend to have extremely high interest rates.

The maximum Earned Income Tax Credit, depending on the number of children in the family, is $4,300. The IRS, though, allows taxpayers to go back three years. So, a family could potentially get a check for almost $13,000. In addition, families might be eligible for additional federal and Oregon tax credits of $1,000 per child.

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