(Gulfport, MS) Friday, March 24, 2006. Former President Bill Clinton visited Operation HOPE in Gulfport for HOPE’s "Day of Empowerment" on Sunday March 19, to promote the Clinton Foundation’s Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness (EITC) Program. The event was held outside the still Katrina damaged Boys & Girls Club. The club will provide space for HOPE’s ongoing financial literacy training programs once the current renovation is completed. Hundreds of locals showed up for the activities which included free tax preparation services and learning about EITC benefits; of those who requested our services 86% were qualified for EITC.
"I believe in the Earned Income Tax Credit Program," said former President Clinton. "For those who earned under $35,000 a year the EITC is a way to put money they already earned back into their pockets. I commend the work of Project Restore HOPE in educating the victims of Hurricane Katrina about the real benefits of EITC."
Tents were set up to inform individuals affected by Katrina who wished to have their taxes prepared – free of charge. Volunteers were on hand to prepare tax returns or amended returns for qualifying residents as a way to bring awareness to the EITC program.
"EITC is not charity," said John Hope Bryant, founder and CEO of Operation HOPE. "It’s a tax credit for people who work." HOPE has been working to help the residents of the Gulfport area through support of Dr. Dorothy Height and her efforts to help Katrina victims. Last October HOPE presented the National Council of Negro Women with a $60,000 contribution to help homeowners rebuild using monies from a challenge grant fund established with E*TRADE Financial seed money. "The EITC is an added bonus for these residents to apply for and take advantage of."
Millions of people meet the requirements for the tax credit, which refunds payroll and income taxes to low-wage workers, but do not claim it. Some low income families can be credited as much as $4,400, depending on their earnings and number of eligible children.
HOPE Coalition America Managing Director, Fred Smith pointed out that the Forest Heights neighborhood was particularly heartbreaking after the storm because earlier that year many residents had recently paid off their mortgages. The "Day of Empowerment" brought an awareness of the EITC tax benefit and the disaster recovery services of Operation HOPE. "We are in Gulfport to let the residents know about our ongoing efforts to help them rebuild their community. Through our Project Restore HOPE initiative we will continue to assist individuals to reconstruct their lives."
Managed through Operation HOPE’s emergency preparedness and recovery division HOPE Coalition America, a partner with FEMA, Project Restore HOPE (PRH) provides free financial counseling, assistance and resources to disaster victims through one-on-one counseling in affected communities, at disaster recovery centers, online via virtual case management and over the phone from toll-free "financial help line" call centers. People are encouraged to call 1-888-388-HOPE (4673) to get more information.
PRH’s HOPE Corps volunteers provide a battery of services for disaster victims include, which include
• Help obtaining lost or destroyed financial documents and personal identification
• Emergency budget guidance
• Emergency credit management
• Assistance with deferring mortgage payments
• Assistance with working with creditors
• Referrals to government or private agencies
• Insurance claims assistance
To date Project Restore HOPE has commitments for more than 1,700 HOPE Corps volunteers from the financial services industry, has served more than 6,600 victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and disbursed more than $258,000 to hurricane victims (including families of Forrest Heights in Gulfport, Miss.) Operation HOPE will double these numbers in the coming months.