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Poorest WA Families Face Vanishing Tax Refund Dollars

April 1, 2008

Seattle, WA – $39 million is a lot of tax refund money. That's how much Washington's lowest-income families are missing out on, according to the Children's Defense Fund (CDF). A new report reveals that 58 percent of the state's lowest-income families, although poor enough to qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), pay someone else to do their taxes; another 21 percent sign up for so-called "instant refunds."

CDF spokesman Ed Shelleby says costs for these services eat up major portions of their tax refund dollars.

"They're essentially getting a very, very high-interest loan. So we're asking Congress to make this process a lot more transparent, and make certain that commercial tax preparers tell families what they're getting into and make it a lot more clear."

Not all tax preparation services are part of the problem, Shelleby explains, just those that target people in the lowest income brackets. Those preparers respond by saying they're serving families who need quick cash and can't wait for refund checks to be processed.

Shelleby says the EITC was designed to help people pull themselves out of poverty with refunds that can amount to several thousand dollars--the taxpayers who can least afford to lose that money.

"This is money that families should be able to keep in their pockets to pay for very important things, like making ends meet, paying rent and utilities. This is something that clearly needs to be addressed."

Free I.R.S.-approved tax preparation help is available for many families who qualify for EITC refunds, by calling 1-800-829-1040.

The CDF report was compiled using figures from 2005, the most recent year for which tax-filing data is available. It can be viewed online at www.childrensdefense.org.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA