The issue of low-income earning pervades our community and is one that many social services are devoted to addressing by serving those experiencing challenges related to; low wages, precarious employment, a high cost of living, and navigating systems. Tackling this issue means working within our current system and educating the public of the various opportunities that can direct financial resources back to those who need them.
That’s exactly what’s taken place at United Way Halton & Hamilton over the past few months. An awareness campaign and three tax clinics were held in the City of Hamilton from March through May; the goal of which was to inform citizens of the 41 potential federal and provincial income benefits that can come directly and indirectly by filing your taxes, and see people claim some of them.
Research conducted in 2016 by the Best Start Network revealed that thousands of families (a modest figure) were not filing taxes and therefore, not receiving up to $42.1 million in entitlements. A quick calculation of possible benefits, leads to the realization that filing taxes has the potential to boost incomes by up to 50%. This is significant and potentially life changing for low income individuals and families.
Mobilizing on this information and opportunity, Mary Long, Labour Community Services Hamilton, a familiar face in community activism, brought numerous relevant players to the table to hold brainstorming and working group sessions. The City of Hamilton Neighbourhood Initiatives, Hamilton Roundtable for Poverty Reduction, Public Health, Information Hamilton, the Basic Needs Working Group, Ontario Works & ODSP, the Hamilton Public Library, Wesley Urban Ministries, Mission Services, the Good Shepherd, Hamilton Public and Catholic School Boards, Prosper Canada and the Social Planning and Research Council; all played a role in informing and shaping the work done to date. And no doubt, the clinics wouldn’t have been as successful, had each one not been involved.
The awareness campaign launched March 21st, saw informative and multilingual flyers distributed amongst our networks, and three tax clinics took place for any eligible members of the public at Central Library. The inaugural event served 25 individuals that together will receive approximately $10,000 in benefits! Support was also given by Mayor Fred Eisenberger, MP David Christopherson, media outlets including Global News and CHCH, coverage of the events.
West Hamilton resident and single mom, Sulema, shared, “the benefits I receive every month take care of all of my sons needs, and opens the door for subsidized after school programs, March Break, summer recreation, and child care programs. It also allows for recreation fee subsidies, meaning he can access recreation programs at little to no cost.” It impacts low-income families right here in Hamilton. “Filing your taxes provides added benefits, including the GST rebate so that low-income families, like mine, can access even more subsidies that they wouldn’t otherwise be eligible for.”
Looking back to what started the project a few months ago, survey findings from a Basic Need Pilot in the Beasley neighbourhood, one can see the power of collaboration and community will.
“We are so thrilled with the results we achieved this year. We came together recognizing there are significant needs in our community and financial benefits and opportunities that people are not accessing. Our aim was to eliminate some of the barriers such as language, documentation supports and of course, ensuring it is free. We realize that taxes can be daunting for everyone and hope that as we continue to build on this momentum and bringing awareness so that more and more Hamiltonians can access their refunds and apply for the benefits that they deserve,” said Mary Long.
Thank you to all of our partners, volunteers, and community members who have been involved. We are excited to take our learnings to expand our reach next year! Visit hamiltontaxhelp.ca for more information.
Together, we are improving lives locally.