"The only difference between this movement and civil rights is that the civil rights movement was forged in the streets, while the silver rights movement will be forged in the suites.”  John Hope Bryant

On Friday, February 3rd, 2006, in Harlem, New York, former U.S. President Bill Clinton and I jointly announced a visionary partnership between the William J. Clinton Foundation, Operation HOPE, ACCORN and others to help Katrina victims in a way that has the very real potential of transforming their lives for the better, and it all centers around something called the EITC.  The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) was introduced by President Ford, advanced and trumpeted by President Reagan, supported by President Bush, doubled by President Clinton during his Administration, and continues under President George W. Bush today. This consistency around something that “works” is important, because you cannot eradicate poverty along partisan lines.

EITC may be a not so good name, but it is an excellent program. EITC today stands out as a model national "poverty eradication" program sponsored by the federal government; effectively giving working individuals and families making less than $40,000 a year a substantial annual pay increase. Not a hand out or charity, but a reward for hard work and for playing by the rules.

For hard working families on the margin in America, this is money sorely needed at any time, but for disaster victims it can literally become the difference maker in rebuilding lives seemingly lost at every turn. And focused on the recent disasters Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, we believe that this substantial injection of hard earned money through EITC, injected directly into the economic life-blood of a struggling family during these challenging times, can make a huge difference; effectively transforming the average "victim" of Katrina — with a healthy dosage of financial literacy and one-on-one financial counseling as provided by HOPE Coalition America and Project Restore HOPE – into a sort of "personal venture capitalist for their own account and in their own lives." 

This powerful initiative alone has the potential of literally lifting families out of despair and helping them to ignite a whole new beginning in their lives going forward.

I particularly commend President Clinton for seeing what even I initially did not; a bold and practical vision that vertically integrates and “connects” financial literacy, economic education, financial counseling and self-help, with a powerful and under-utilized economic resource for taking your life back. A hand up and not just a hand out. A private/public partnership that recognizes, as my friend Dr. Dorothy Height has often said, “sometimes self-help, needs a little help.”

But of course, as with any good thing or opportunity, there problems and challenges that must be addressed, and here are ours; fully 1 in 4 Americans that are eligible for EITC benefits never claim them, and that meant approximately $9 billion last year alone for the poor and under-served in America that went wholly unclaimed.  And bringing this even closer to home, regarding Katrina, close to 40% of the residents of the 9th Ward in New Orleans, Louisiana were EITC eligible.

“During the civil rights movement Dr. King and I helped to integrate the lunch counter, but during the silver rights movement we must now integrate the money.”  Ambassador Andrew Young

Again, this is not a hand out, but represents a portion of money earned by these workers and paid into the system through payroll taxes and the like, that they can get back through the EITC in the form of a cash refund. And the numbers are simply staggering.

If you work a full 40 hour work week in America, at minimum wage, you earn slightly more than $10,300 per year. Hardly enough to live on in a country where rent alone in a major U.S. city will cost you more than half of that annual amount. But through EITC a family with two children, earning less than $40,000 per year, could be eligible for as much as $4,000 cash back annually through EITC, and if you have not filed prior it is also retroactive up to 3 years! That means more than $12,000 could be sitting in the vault of the U.S. Treasury with your name on it. That is enough to turn your life around, to place a down payment on a home in most U.S. cities, to send your kids to college (a good one), to become an entrepreneur or start that small business you have always dreamed of.  Enough for a new beginning. A hand up and not a hand out. And it is dignity in action too, because it is money you earned.

President Clinton said it best when he said on February 3rd, "…can you imagine working all week and instead of cashing your paycheck, you rip it up? …If you earn under $35,000 a year and you’re not claiming your Earned Income Tax Credit, then you’re doing just that-throwing away your hard earned money. The main idea of EITC is still the old idea of the American Dream, that if you work hard and play by the rules, you ought to have a decent life, and a chance for your children to have a better one. I hope this Initiative helps more Americans achieve their dreams and reaches those Americans whose lives were shattered by last year’s Hurricanes." I agree with President Clinton 100%.

And so,
I ask you to read about what President Clinton, Operation HOPE, myself and others undertook last week, with the key support provided by additional partners including ACORN, H & R Block (they did something truly incredible for the victims of Katrina), E Trade Financial, Duetsche Bank, Microsoft, New York Bankers Association, Premiere Radio Network (Clear Channel), and of course the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation; and then, if you can, help us get the word out to Katrina victims. We want all who are eligible to call 1-888-388 HOPE to get the EITC and other sponsored benefits they so rightly deserve. This done, we can all help to transform their individual and collective storm, into the rainbow, they so rightly deserve.

Onward, with HOPE

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