NJ 2-1-1 Newsletter - Spring 2018

Tax Filing Assistance Here

EITC You earned it. Don't leave it behind.According to the IRS, 27 million eligible workers and families nationwide were refunded about $65 billion in 2017 thanks to the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). NJ 2-1-1 has been working closely with its United Way partners for years to see that New Jersey residents know about this tax credit and have access to free assistance in filing their taxes to ensure they receive these refunds. A working family making less than $53,930 last year may qualify and could get a refund of up to $6,318 simply by applying for this tax credit. Earners may also qualify for refunds on state tax returns. 

“Every year we devote significant staff time to compiling a comprehensive listing of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) locations throughout the state,” NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director Melissa Acree explains. “We are talking with callers every day who are struggling to make ends meet. This kind of refund is critically important for low- to moderate-income earners in our state, who, despite all of their hard work, often don’t make enough money to meet their living expenses.” Statistics gathered by the NJ 2-1-1 Partnership in 2017 show “financial assistance” as the top need, expressed by 54% of all callers. The second highest need was for housing assistance.

The Earned Income Tax Credit has long been seen as a valuable anti-poverty program. It is available to individuals and families. Wage earners working part-time or full-time and even those who are self-employed may qualify. EITC refunds do not count as income when people apply for or renew benefits like SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program), SSI, Medicaid, cash assistance or public housing. In the first two months of this year we have responded to close to 4,500 calls for tax assistance. Our online listing has been accessed over 8,500 times this year.

There is still time to find a VITA site near you. NJ 2-1-1 is always open. Its services are free, confidential and multilingual. For assistance, connect with a resource specialist by dialing 2-1-1; text your zip-code to 898-211; or chat online. The complete VITA listing is organized by county and can be accessed here. You will find information about hours of operation and whether you need an appointment or you can just walk in. Some locations also have an appointment link in the entry, enabling taxpayers to make an appointment online.

Utility Assistance Still Available

home energy assistance posterThe deadline to apply for utility assistance through LIHEAP (Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) has been extended to May 31. As the Home Energy Assistance Hotline for the State of New Jersey, NJ 2-1-1 is the place to call if you are struggling to pay your gas, oil or electric heating bills. This assistance is available to eligible residents regardless of whether they rent or own their home. Emergency assistance is also available through May 31 for those who have already been approved for LIHEAP benefits AND have received a shut-off notice.

Callers to NJ 2-1-1 can check on the status of their application, receive information on the location of their application agency and a list of documents that must be submitted with their application. Required documentation includes a copy of the rental lease/property tax bill (if you own your home); utility bill; proof of income for anyone in your home above the age of 18; social security card for everyone in the household and a drivers license or state issued picture ID.

Information about these and other programs is available on the utility assistance pages of our website. Here you will find the LIHEAP/USF application; all of the eligibility requirements for these programs and others; a listing of application agencies; and more. USF (Universal Service Fund) is open all year round. For a brief synopsis of these programs, read our Utility Assistance at a Glance sheet.

Evacuees of Puerto Rico Call FEMA

hurricane maria satellite imageFEMA has extended its registration for assistance deadline to June 18 for evacuees who have left Puerto Rico and are now residing in the Continental U.S. Registering with FEMA is the first step you must take if you hope to receive any kind of assistance. You must register with FEMA online by selecting the "Apply Online" icon  or call them at 1-800-621-3362 before any help can be provided. 

Services that may be available once you register and qualify for assistance, include:

  • Transitional Shelter Assistance (TSA) has been extended through May 15, 2018 and if you qualify, FEMA will pay for the cost of your room and all associated taxes. Here is a listing of participating hotels
  • Transportation assistance is available through FEMA as well. Once you qualify for assistance, FEMA will pay for flights to select airports and your return flight to Puerto Rico once you are able to return. 
  • Emergency prescription services and the replacement of durable medical equipment is available through Express Scripts once you qualify. 

Catholic Charities is providing free direct assistance to evacuees, offering help with housing, employment, furniture, food, clothing, counseling, medical services and the submission of applications for public benefits. You can reach them by calling their Hurricane Hotline: 856.342.4073. 

Information about these and other resources (including local events as we hear about them) may be found on our website where you will also find a more in-depth Hurricane Maria Resource Guide available for download.