Philly nonprofit seeks to help 30,000 residents get bigger tax refunds

As tax season begins, Campaign for Working Families wants to be the alternative to for-profit tax refund businesses hawking cash advances for big fees.

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Dr. Nikia Owens, PhD, smiles as she poses for a photo.

Dr. Nikia Owens, PhD is the president and CEO of Philadelphia-based nonprofit tax preparation organization Campaign for Working Families. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

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For the past two decades, the Philadelphia nonprofit Campaign for Working Families has helped local residents do their taxes for free.

That’s not changing this year, but the nonprofit did move into a new 6,600 square-foot headquarters in the Brewerytown neighborhood near 29th and Girard. That’s about a mile away from its former office on North Broad Street near Temple University’s main campus.

Its CEO, Dr. Nakia Owens, told a crowd of about two dozen supporters during the office’s grand opening celebration that she wants the organization to help 30,000 residents with free tax preparation this year — up from roughly 22,000 last year.

Owens is most concerned about individuals with low income who pay big fees to for-profit tax preparers because the companies promise same-day loans based on the potential value of their tax return which can be upwards of $7,000 for families.

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“Keep that money in your pocket. Save it,” Owens said.

Philadelphia District 5 councilperson Jeffrey Young Jr. asks Dr. Nikia Owens, president and CEO of the nonprofit Campaign for Working Families, a question
Philadelphia District 5 councilperson Jeffrey Young Jr. asks Dr. Nikia Owens, president and CEO of the nonprofit Campaign for Working Families why it’s beneficial to get free tax prep rather than getting an commercial advance loan on a tax refund. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

Her organization encourages residents to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is underutilized in big cities like Philadelphia.

On average, about 50,000 taxpayers don’t claim it which means $100 million is left in federal government coffers and not bank accounts of individuals. The Earned Income Tax Credit is often paired with the Child Tax Credit but the earned income tax credit isn’t tied to individuals claiming dependent children. In general, anyone who earned less than $63,398 in the past year could be eligible for money back from the federal government.

The organization’s tax preparers are trained and certified by the IRS and the nonprofit works in tandem with the city of Philadelphia, local council members and churches.

The exterior of the new headquarters of the Working Families Party
The new main offices for the local nonprofit Campaign for Working Families in Philadelphia is near the corner of Girard and 29th Street. (Kristen Mosbrucker-Garza/WHYY)

Tardy taxpayers shouldn’t worry about filing returns — even if they only worked a part-time job during the holiday season.

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“Let’s say you took a seasonal job at Target or Walmart and you only made a couple thousand dollars, a lot of people might say that’s not really worth me filing — but if you don’t file you’re missing out even on a percentage of that,” she said. “While knowledge is power it’s not empowering unless you use it.”

About half of the people they serve earned less than $22,000 a year. This year is also the last year individuals can request federal stimulus checks dating back to 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“If you missed [filing your taxes] last year, not only can we do this year but we can do three years prior returns,” Owens said.

The Campaign for Working Families operates about 26 different brick and mortar offices, mobile sites, a call center and even virtual tax prep appointments — which are increasingly popular, she said.

The organization has 15 full-time employees plus roughly 130 seasonal workers in addition to volunteers to help with tax preparation season. The call center handled 23,000 calls last year.

The first day taxes can be filed with the IRS this year is Jan. 22.

Owens said she knows that a few hundred dollars in the pockets of low income individuals can be a lot of money but it’s worth it to wait.

“If you can hold off on taking a refund anticipation loan, refund checks are coming a lot quicker if you do electronic filing and direct deposit. You can get a refund back in two weeks,” she said.

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