Don’t Leave Money on the Table
For many hard working Americans, tax season can’t come soon enough. It’s then that they can file their tax returns and often are eligible for a tax refund, sometimes in the thousands of dollars. NJ 2-1-1 is helping people connect with free tax filing assistance from IRS certified volunteers who know all about the tax credits that are vital to families and individuals who are struggling to make ends meet.
Help is available at VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) locations in every county of the state. VITA volunteers have been specially trained to complete taxpayers’ simple tax forms and at nearly all locations are filing the returns electronically. To do so improves efficiencies and results in the client receiving any refunds they are due faster than they would have if the returns were mailed. Volunteers have also been educated about tax credits that filers could be eligible for which has the potential to significantly increase the amount of money being refunded.
For example, working families who made less than $54,884 in 2018 who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) could see a federal tax credit of $6,431 and state tax credit of $2,380. Tax credits may reduce the amount of taxes a person owes or provide them with a refund, EVEN if they don’t owe ANY taxes. Of course, tax returns must be filed to receive tax credits.
The NJ 2-1-1 listing of VITA sites includes details about each site’s accessibility, hours of operation and location. It also provides information about the languages that are spoken and, in many cases, appointments can be scheduled online. Those who prefer, can reach out for live assistance by simply dialing 2-1-1; texting their zip code to 898-211 or chatting with us online.
Real-Time Data from NJ 2-1-1 Now Available
On February 11 (2-1-1 Day) NJ 2-1-1 announced the launching of a web platform that offers everyone the opportunity to view real-time data from our call center. All callers’ identities are confidential. However, the following information is aggregated within the 2-1-1 system and can be shared: a caller’s demographic data; the needs that are communicated; and the referrals provided. These data are reflected in the reports that, up until now, had only been shared with community and state partners at designated intervals. “We’re pleased to announce that we are now able to share real-time data and that it will be available to anyone who wants to see it, for purposes of identifying need, as well as budgets and planning,” said NJ 2-1-1 Executive Director Melissa Acree.
The data from NJ 2-1-1 can be accessed by clicking on the map of New Jersey found at www.211counts.org. NJ 2-1-1 is pleased to have enhanced the flow of essential information to policymakers to better inform them of the public response to critical needs. Sharing data on an ongoing basis provides policymakers at all levels of government, as well as grant writers, and many others who are striving to serve the community, with a reliable source of data that reflects the current needs of the public we serve.
When a visitor to the site accesses the New Jersey page, they see the top needs expressed by callers to NJ 2-1-1. This information can be filtered to provide relevant statistics based on different parameters: a set time period; individual zip codes; counties; legislative districts; and school districts.
In addition to the steady stream of information being downloaded nightly by NJ 2-1-1, visitors to 211 Counts can access census data for every zip code in the state by hovering over a detailed map found just below the call center information. When one of the needs expressed by callers is clicked, the map reflects the number of calls received from that very zip code. Along with that the visitor will see the poverty rate, unemployment rate, percentage of the population having less than a high school diploma and the percentage of rental housing in that community. Tables to the right of the map reflect the highest rate of requests by zip code and graphically depict the volume of calls received during the previous twelve months.
Legislative Information Session
This month NJ 2-1-1 hosted its first informational session for NJ legislative aides. After providing them with an overview of our organization's history and mission, we took them on a tour of our website, showing them optimal search techniques and informational content pages that are sometimes missed. "Share your most difficult case and let us try to solve it," we offered.
That is just what many of them did and in each case we were able to find resources that might help. Our intention was to expose them to the power of the NJ 2-1-1 resource database and to reinforce the fact that we are here to help them serve the constituents in their legislative district at any time of the day or night. The session ended with a tour of the NJ 2-1-1 Call Center and a light lunch. We were so pleased with the enthusiasm expressed by our visitors and we are looking forward to hosting a similar session at the United Way of Greater Mercer County this spring.
It was such a pleasure, attending the information session, and meeting you, and some of the wonderful staff… I am so happy I attended. I will definitely call “2-1-1” the next time I need help with a constituent.
- Vivian Lugo, Office Manager, Assemblywoman Annette Chaparro District 33
“I’m going to create a summary for the Senator, Assembly members and all the aides in our legislative district to help get the word out about what a fantastic resource 2-1-1 is for constituents in our district and for everyone throughout the state of New Jersey.”
- Amy Overman, Chief of Staff, Senator Anthony R. Bucco, District 25
It's great to see how the call center works and the masterminds behind it all.
- Samantha Perez, Director of Constituent Services,
Joint office of Senator Vitale, Speaker Coughlin and Assemblywoman Lopez. District 19
I want to personally thank you and everyone connected with NJ 2-1-1 for the excellent presentation to constituent assistants of NJ Senate and Assembly legislators two weeks ago in Cedar Knolls. I’ve been up on your website and have been most impressed with the breadth of information available to New Jersey residents. The ease with which to use your program is both appreciated and exciting. Please keep us up-to-date with any new and innovative additions; not only in New Jersey but countrywide.
- Sally Goodson, Legislative Aide, Assemblyman Thomas P Giblin, District 34