Former president offers guidance
By KAREN NELSON
GULFPORT – Bill Clinton has a way of listening and paying attention to people that gives him crowd appeal. It showed on the faces of people at the Forest Heights Boys & Girls Club on Sunday, when he attended a financial seminar to promote the earned income tax credit.
He stopped to listen to those who approached him with their problems. He returned three times to Chandra Moore, 37, a mother of three who lost her federal job to budget cuts and her home to Katrina.
Each time he had a suggestion. He listened to her story. He asked her more questions. She told him that she lost everything but was a renter and isn’t qualified for SBA or the grants that are coming.
"There may be two or three places where you can get some extra help," he told her. "But it takes some time. You may have to go through two or three people."
He shook more hands and orchestrated a group photo and then returned to Moore with another suggestion.
He said, "It’s amazing to me the number of people who did not file for EITC." And he suggested that she may be able to file for not only last year but for prior years.
It’s a tax credit available to single parents who make $35,000 or less and for two-income families making up to $37,000.
In Mississippi last year, 365,000 people filed for it, but 85,000 who qualified didn’t. Clinton and members of Operation Hope are trying to get the word out, because with Katrina there will likely be 150,000 who qualify in the state but don’t file for the credit that could bring them up to $4,000 a year.
The Gulfport police who were security for the event learned that they could file for EITC. Some said they planned to look into it and asked more questions.
It’s a program that has been around for 30 years, but was strengthened during the Clinton administration. Clinton has promoted it since he retired from office.
Later Sunday, Clinton was scheduled to also bring the same message to residents in Baton Rouge, La. On Saturday, he promoted the tax credit in a working-class Little Rock, Ark., neighborhood.
It’s not charity, said John Bryant, head of Operation Hope. It’s a tax credit for people who work.
"It’s not about black or white," said Bryant. "It’s about green."
Moore said she was glad to get the information Clinton offered. She’s the executive secretary for the Forest Heights Homeowner and Tenants Association and has had so many people call with questions.
"I told them I would ask the president," she said.
Clinton stopped at the tent where children were learning the difference between being broke and being poor — poor being defined as a disabling frame of mind.
"I’m not poor," one little girl said.
"Why?" asked Clinton. "Because why?"
"I still have my family," one child said.
"What else?" asked Clinton.
"Spirit?" one child offered.
"You have your mind, you have your hands, your body," Clinton said. "You can learn and work."
Meeting with a smaller group of community leaders inside the gutted building, the former president said the only hitch with the EITC is that people have to file a form and ask for the credit when they file a tax return. Often people who file the short form without a tax preparer miss the credit.
"I get my tax cuts, but I can afford an accountant," he said.
He said that hitch is one thing that needs to be corrected and that there is a movement in Congress to do that.
If people filed for several years in back credit, they might have as much as $12,000, which could mean a down payment on a new home, he said.
He said that the Forest Heights neighborhood was particularly heartbreaking after the storm because it had so many homes that had been paid off.
Bryant told the group that Clinton had stopped to inspire the community.
"He’s not here for a photo op," Bryant said, who compared the former president’s popularity to that of a rock star.