Part of what made my recent trip to Gulfport, Mississippi, promoting the EITC through our Clinton Foundation-Operation HOPE Partnership, so very special was the obvious sincerity and authenticity of everyone involved; from former President Bill Clinton (seen here with me talking with and encouraging victims of Katrina), to Trooper Sanders, his domestic policy advisor, along with the entire team from the Clinton Foundation, to our on-the-ground and visiting team from Operation HOPE, led by Fred D. Smith (director of HOPE Coalition America) along with Mary Hagerty (chief of financial literacy) and Jena Roscoe (chief of government relations), to the H & R Block volunteer professionals, to the local elected officials and the great people of Gulfport, Mississippi. The Bush-Katrina Fund was also a big booster for the area and our efforts indirectly, having previously made a major grant to the State of Mississippi.
Hey, even the local media were willing to believe that we actually meant what we said when we promised to "do something" in Gulfport...and we did, I might add. Do something, I mean.
I remember vividly my slow and reflective walks down the streets of Gulfport, talking to the residents about what they had gone through and what we could do to help, starting with getting them free emergency financial counseling from HOPE Coalition America and Project Restore HOPE, free tax return preparation from our partner H & R Block, and most certainly encouraging each and everyone of them to apply for EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) eligibility. This was hope in action, and the people - you could see it in their eyes - really appreciated that we were there.
Last year 1 in 4 Americans never filed for EITC and as a result, $9 billion was returned to the U.S. Treasury -- money sorely needed by Katrina victims and the average American family just trying to make it. Well, in talking with everyone from Katrina victims to police officers stations on the parameters of our event on Sunday (and I learned on Sunday that just about the entire police department makes less than $40,000 per year and would qualify under EITC) it seems like 8 in 10 individuals from the Gulfport community had not even heard of this funny named program which is probably one of the best poverty fighting tools of the federal government today. And most everyone we told about it, including my driver for the day, qualified.
If you made less than $40,000 a year last year (which is most of America) and you have 2 children, the federal government owes you approximately $4,000 cash back! This is not a hand out, but money you have earned through work -- by keeping your end of the bargain in pursuit of the American dream.
And so, yes my trip to Gulfport and later my tour of the devastated Mississippi coastline (and I mean utter and complete devastation for miles on) was indeed very special, but the most special part of it all was seeing real people get real help, right there and on the spot. This is doing well and doing good, and doing well by doing good.
Thank you Mark Ernst and Bernie Wilson of H & R Block, without whom we would have had no volunteers nor free tax prep. Thank you my friends within the Clinton Foundation, and my incredible team at HOPE. Most of all, thank you God, and a very special thank you to the good and decent and hard working people of Gulfport, Mississippi. We will be back; again, and again, and again, until the job of HOPE building is done.
If you know someone who is a Katrina victim they may also be EITC qualified and be missing out on thousands of dollars that are already theirs! But they have to ask for it. We will help them. Have them call 1-888-388-HOPE or log onto www.operationhope.org.
P.S. Thank you Dr. Dorothy I. Height (for whom these 200 homes were originally built some 35 years ago) for encouraging me and us to do this! You are truly one of my sheroes.
Onward, with HOPE