Friday, February 3rd, 2006, was an example of former U.S. President Bill Clinton at his absolute best -- and the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation flexing its global muscle in a way that truly amplifies, leverages and employs the world to serve others.
On this past Friday I was honored to join President Clinton as we announced a national outreach partnership to help Katrina victims get the federal and state tax benefits they deserved, and have worked for, through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Started under President Gerald Ford and expanded by President Reagan, and then doubled by President Clinton, EITC is one of the best poverty eradication tools every devised by government - and it is vastly under-utilized by the very individuals it was designed to help. More than $9 billion of EITC cash benefits go unclaimed, and almost 40% of the residents of the 9th ward of New Orleans, Louisiana are EITC eligible! In other words, this is as real as it gets, when you talk about getting real benefits to Katrina victims in their time of need.
Coming together under the President's leadership, and standing with us on this important day in Harlem, New York (and I might add with the key help of his crack domestic policy advisor Trooper Sanders), was Mark Ernst, chairman and chief executive officer of H & R Block, Arlen Gelbard, president of E Trade Bank and chief administrative officer of E Trade Financial, Linda Zecher, vice president, US Public Sector for Microsoft, Lionel Savage, vice president of First American Corporation,Robyn Brady-Ince of Duetsche Bank, Roberta Kotkin (and Michael P. Smith, president in spirit), general counsel and chief operating officer for the New York Bankers Association, Maude Hurd, president of ACORN, and a host of others. What a coalition!
President Clinton truly deserves credit for this innovative, public/private partnership to gets (1) real help to real people, (2) is practical and results oriented, (3) is timely, (4) provides individuals with a hand up and not a hand out, and (5) last but not least puts what he refers to as "boots on the ground," where critical help is needed.
Specifically, through this partnership ACORN will roll out a network of mobile vans, and people, trained and ready to help Katrina victims apply for their EITC benefits - locating and going where they are (so far in 10 states). Operation HOPE's Project Restore HOPE (1-888-388 HOPE) will mobilize the 1,500 volunteers committed through this partnership to provide on the ground and virtual financial counseling to victims both in the impacted states, and nationwide. Additionally, thanks to a grant from the Clinton Foundation, HOPE will place staffers, full-time, on the ground in Gulf Port, Mississippi, fulfilling a promise to Dr. Dorothy Height to help her rebuild the homes, and the lives of the 200 families destroyed by Katrina in that community. In this regard I just spoke this morning to Dr. Height, who is traveling to Gulf Port today and then continuing on to Mrs. King funeral, and she could not have been more pleased.
Additionally, HOPE will mobilize our award winning Banking on Our Future program (youth financial literacy), having educated more than 170,000 low wealth youth to date nationwide, including thousands in Harlem in partnership with President Clinton, to help insure that there are "No More Katrina's" in the years to come --- educating the youth and children of Katrina victims in financial literacy and silver rights.
And then H & R Block -- with its commitment of 5,000 free tax prep and EITC filings, free savings accounts for all Katrina victims, and free EITC filings for all Katrina victims, and 500 volunteers to help us with financial literacy for youth and financial counseling for adults and families -- will help us turn these Katrina "victims" into self actualized, self-appointed personal venture capitalist for their own lives. Through EITC an individual with 2 children can claim up to $4,000 in tax refunds, through the sweat of their own work. And EITC is retroactive...so if you did not file for 3 years, guess what -- you can claim as much as $12,000! This is a real start for someone's life who may have made $10,000 to $12,000 per year total!
And so, this partnership brings together effective grass roots outreach (ACORN), vertically integrated financial literacy for children and financial counseling for adults (HOPE and Project Restore HOPE), private sector volunteerism (Block, E Trade, Deutsche Bank, First American Corp, NYBA and others), virtual volunteerism (Microsoft), boots on the ground in Gulf Port, Mississippi for Dr. Height (Clinton Foundation support), and the creation of personal venture capitalist in their own lives (Block's free EITC filings).
This is doing well by doing good at its best, and a true example of how the most influential private citizen in the world (Mr. Clinton) can indeed make a big difference....
Onward, with HOPE
P.S. spread the word, and make sure people who can benefit from this call HOPE at 1-888-388-HOPE!