CAT | Civic Engagement and Service Learning
Tonight I will be off to San Antonio for a week for MUM. Travel from Hawaii takes a little extra time and often involves all night trans Pacific flights followed by waiting in a west coast and or a Midwest airport for another flight or two. so it will be Tuesday before I get used to the time change and shake off the jet lag. Hope the rest of the folks at MUM don’t mind if I doze off from time to time.
I have been trying to write these posts in the fashion of reflections on the subjects that were presented in the reading assignment, “Civic Engagement in Catholic and Marianist Universities: A Continuing Conversation Revised: 16 May 2010.” I will be returning to this blog after our time in San Antonio in order to offer the observations and reflections of my students, past present and those who still have not learned better from their peers to avoid my classes and of course those that actually show up in my classes looking to become more civically engaged through service learning.
The section on “the dignity of work and the rights of workers” in the “Characteristics of Marianist Universities” document starts as follows:
“The economy must serve people, not the other way around. Work is more than a way to make a living; it is a form of continuing participation in God’s creation. Employers contribute to the common good through the services or products they provide and by creating jobs that uphold the dignity and rights of workers—to productive work, to decent and just wages, to adequate benefits and security in their old age, to the choice of whether to organize and join unions, to the opportunity for legal status for immigrant workers, to private property, and to economic initiative. Workers also have responsibilities—to provide a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay, to treat employers and co-workers with respect, and to carry out their work in ways that contribute to the common good. Workers, employers, and unions should not only advance their own interests, but also work together to advance economic justice and the well-being of all.”
I have been involved in asset building and tax assistance (VITA or the volunteer Income Tax Assistance program) for almost three decades and I have involved my students at Chaminade in these endeavors for the past 20 years now. The tax outreach by the students at Chaminade have resulted in over $4 million being returned to the working poor and homeless in Hawaii over the life of our outreach activities. So as to assessment or proof of learning and success I firmly believe that this speaks for itself. I will amplify on this statement as we continue to explore the area of civic engagement through the various learning outcomes that form the last section of the background reading.
The conclusion of the homework assignment is as follows: “This paper reflects the current understanding of the meaning of civic engagement in the Catholic and Marianist traditions of education on the three campuses of our Marianist universities. As such it provides a foundation for the next phase of this project: the development of the means to assess civic engagement on those campuses.”
This blog so far has addressed my civic engagement more than that of my students. And thus to end this segment of my blog I offer the following op-ed and a YouTube video link on the Earned Income Tax Credit and helping people with their back taxes. The op-ed is hopefully the first of a bunch that I will offer to my newly formed hometown paper, the Honolulu Star Advertiser. This piece was originally published in the Star Advertiser on January 27, 2011. The YouTube video is a segment from a local morning news broadcast that I get to be interviewed on a fairly regular basis on tax issues.
Earned income credit is bright star of tax policy
By Wayne M. Tanna
POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 27, 2011
The television show “Lost” spent nearly $400 million during its six seasons of filming in Hawaii, according to the state in a June 17, 2010, Star-Advertiser report.
Clearly $400 million is a lot of money. Still, one must wonder, who really gets this amount? Does it stay in Hawaii? And how much does it cost to bring in this “investment”?
Then there’s a July 18, 2010, article reporting that from 2001 to 2008, the state’s Act 221, which provides qualified investments in technology businesses such as the film industry with a 100 percent tax credit, “cost the state up to $1.2 billion in forgone income tax revenues.”
While I am in favor of the film industry’s presence in Hawaii, I believe that a comparison with that industry will illustrate the importance and impact of the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC. From 2005 to 2009, the IRS reports, the EITC brought more than $815 million into the state. For tax year 2009 alone, the EITC returned more than $205 million, almost all of which stays right here in Hawaii, to 102,736 Hawaii residents. That’s an average of $1,996 per eligible household. This money represents new federal funds that went directly into the pockets of workers who needed it most: low- to moderate-income workers, who spent these funds on local goods and services, thereby stimulating the economy and increasing the state’s general excise tax revenues.
FREE TAX HELP
Free tax help for families making less than $50,000 will be offered 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday at the state Capitol, room 329. For appointments call 548-8887.
For other dates and locations go to www.hawaiitaxhelp.org, or call 211.
Friday marks the fifth annual Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day. Due to changes brought on by the continuing economic crisis and changes in the tax laws, more workers could be eligible for the EITC this year and not know it. As a result, they may overlook claiming the EITC, which can put anywhere from $2 to $5,666 into their pockets.
The Family and Individual Self-Sufficiency Program (FISSP) at the Hawaii Alliance for Community Based Economic Development (HACBED) and its many community partners help local families claim the EITC. The FISSP began as a pilot program at Aloha United Way in 2005 to help working yet still struggling families throughout the state build assets. One of the FISSP’s major programs provides free tax preparation to thousands of families every tax-filing season. Last year, based on 1,770 surveys, we found that EITC recipients planned to use their tax credit refunds to pay bills — including food and clothing, rent, education and child care — and save for the future.
President Ronald Reagan once called the EITC “the best anti-poverty, the best pro-family, the best job-creation measure to come out of Congress.”
Today President Barack Obama, with bipartisan support, looks to the EITC to be a principal part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act that will help low- to moderate-income Americans get through this current economic crisis.
The EITC is the federal government’s largest benefit program for working-poor Americans. According to the IRS, the EITC in 2010 paid out more than $58 billion to low-income working taxpayers, far more than other government anti-poverty programs like Temporary Assistance to Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or food stamps.
The results of the EITC are impressive. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in tax year 2009, “the EITC is credited with lifting over 6.6 million individuals in America above the poverty line.”
The more touching fact is that more than half of that number are children.
Despite the benefits that are provided by the EITC, the IRS estimates that nationally 20-25 percent of EITC eligible taxpayers fail to file for the credit. This means that as many as 34,000 taxpayers in Hawaii may not be filing for the credit. This equates to as much as $68 million in federal funds being lost to our state this year alone.
For hard-working, low-income families looking to receive their full refund without spending more money for services, community tax programs like the FISSP at HACBED offer a quality choice.
Teaching is what I get paid the “big bucks” for, well a recent Honolulu Star Advertiser article did put Chaminade faculty in the 20th percentile in regards to pay at masters degree institutions nation wide so “big bucks” is clearly just a figure of speech in this refection. However, a card given to me by a recent graduate made it clear to me why I am at a Catholic Marianist University (i.e. Chaminade). The message in the card started as follows “Thank you for being such a great professor and mentor. I wouldn’t be where I am today if I didn’t go through VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) and Senior Field (BU470 the Senior Field Experience),and with your guidance I was able to become a much better version of myself.”
My student’s words reinforced the reason that I am a professor at Chaminade; It’s the teaching, stupid! “In the Marianist approach to education, “excellence” includes the whole person, not just the technician or rhetorician. It also includes people with their curricular and extra-curricular experiences, their intellectual and spiritual development, understood and supported best in and through community.
(28.) Diverse faculty and students feel at home in Marianist universities. Yet, diversity without a common mission leads to isolated groups who rarely interact on issues of common concern. A mission without attention to diversity overlooks the importance of building a community that is multifaceted, one in which diverse, and even at times, conflicting perspectives are joined in a richer and more complex search for what is reliable and worthwhile and true. As Catholic, Marianist universities seek to embrace diverse peoples and understand diverse cultures, convinced that ultimately, when such people come together, one of highest purposes of education is realized: the forming of a human community that respects every individual within it.
(29.) At Marianist universities, the faculty, staff and administration attend to both the formal and informal dimensions of education. To the extent that the university is residential in character, life both in and outside the classroom becomes an integral part of the educational experience. The contributions of all the various staff members, especially Campus Ministry and Student Development, all contribute to the creation of an environment in which people are respected and supported, even as they are informed and challenged. The administration, as well as the members of the governing board, remain concerned not only with keeping the mission clearly focused, but also with eliciting the gifts and talents of a diversity of people in the realization of that mission.
Past experience and practical wisdom has shown me that one of the best ways to facilitate the development of the whole person, to foster a deeper appreciation of diversity and to attend to both the formal and informal dimensions of education both inside and outside of the classroom is through teaching and mentoring. As a teacher I serve as a mentor and I try to help my students develop into better students, workers and individuals. Like so many others, I am not always successful. I dare say that there are some students and graduates out there that absolutely hate me! However, on balance I believe I have helped more than I have hindered. Cards and letter like the one I quoted above are few and far between but they are the kinds of words and messages that can keep you coming back to teach for years to come.
I got to see first hand the power of mentoring through my involvement in Pacific Centuries Second Century Scholars program. I shared my observations and experiences about this fabulous program in an op-ed that was first printed in the Honolulu Advertiser on Thursday, June 23, 2005.
Posted on: Thursday, June 23, 2005
Mentoring students is critical
On June 12, the Advertiser’s Community Editorial Board had the opportunity to express their ideas on how to improve our public schools. Community board member Meheroo Jussawalla posed the following questions at the end of the article: “Is there private-public cooperation being devised to improve the school system and to make its benefits more equitably distributed? What is the role of parents in meeting these challenges?”
In partial answer to the questions, I pose the reported results of the recently celebrated Bank of Hawaii’s Second Century Scholars’ program (“Investing in successful students,” Loren Moreno, June 17).
In 1997, I had the opportunity to be one of the judges responsible for selecting the 100 Second Century Scholars. As stated in the article, the program was to “’adopt’ 100 Hawai’i high school freshmen from low- to moderate- income backgrounds (and) prepare them for college.” The overwhelming majority of these students were from public schools. While the ultimate payoff that these students appeared to receive was the up to $40,000 to attend the college of their choice, the mentoring provided for the eight years may have been even more significant.
Trained by Big Brothers Big Sisters, concerned and caring volunteers provided the mentoring. Almost all of these volunteers came from the ranks of Bank of Hawaii’s employees. The results to date are that 70 of these students will graduate from college. This is a notable achievement since only half of the students who enroll in college will ever complete a degree.
This is where a public-private partnership that goes beyond contributing money can increase the success of our public school students and perhaps become a catalyst for the improvement of the entire public education system.
It would be very difficult for another company to match or better the dollar investment that Bank of Hawaii committed to its program. Still other companies could replicate the mentoring and college prep parts of the program without incurring significant financial obligations. All it would take is the commitment of the employees and the support of the employer.
The new private partners need not take on 100 students, though it would be nice; smaller programs sponsored by more local companies will provide tremendous benefits to our community. Additionally, as seen in the Second Century program, the increased focus on student success stimulated greater parent involvement and families got more involved in the academic lives of their children.
Finally, while scholarships to attend the college of a student’s choice would be ideal, the opportunity for a much greater number of local students are our own community colleges. Once there, students can prepare for a four-year college and beyond or gain valuable career skills that will help them to get better jobs. All this would take is the commitment of more businesses to get themselves and their employees involved.
In the words of Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Wayne M. Tanna
Professor of accounting, Chaminade University
At the risk of sounding cliché, every institution of higher education seeks to educate the whole person. The philosophy of a liberal arts education rests on this principle. And there is good reason for this. So what constitutes excellence when it comes to educating the whole person? “In the Marianist approach to education, “excellence” includes the whole person, not just the technician or rhetorician. It also includes people with their curricular and extra-curricular experiences, their intellectual and spiritual development, understood and supported best in and through community.
(27.) Marianist universities educate whole persons, developing their physical, psychological, intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social qualities. Faculty and students attend to fundamental moral attitudes, develop their personal talents and acquire skills that will help them learn all their lives. The Marianist approach to education links theory and practice, liberal and professional education. Beneath all these efforts at integration lies the deeper level of the spiritual lives of the students and faculty, lives that are strengthened through habits of service, reflection and silence. These habits foster liberating if sometime sobering self-knowledge, sharpen critical thinking and support prudent judgment. At this deeper level of integration, faculty and students interpret the meaning and consequences of data, facts and events. They learn too, that the academic disciplines are valuable resources for contemplating not just themselves and their relationships, but also the larger world of commerce, government and culture in the presence of God and the light of the Gospel. The deeper peoples’ interior life, the stronger is their desire to learn, and the more often do they act for purposeful and wise ends.
A significant percentage of our students are athletes. These student-athletes make up almost 10percent of our total enrollment. And like the NCAA promos are constantly proclaiming “there are over 400,000 NCAA student-athletes and most of us are going pro in something other than sports.” So when it comes to this population of students on our campuses, excellence in educating the whole person involves the community in many significant ways. Ways that are clearly unique to the individual, just as they are with every other student we educate.
I wrote the following op-ed for the Honolulu Advertiser and it was published on Friday, August 18, 2006 along the lines of the importance of education and also in a way about educating the whole person.
Posted on: Friday, August 18, 2006
Football camp teaches more than the game
Summer is almost gone, and the fall sports season is just around the corner. Over the past summer, many of Hawai’i’s future sports stars have been honing their skills in an effort to get to the next level. It seems that a record number of aspiring college athletes have been attending summer sports camps. According to a recent article in a local weekly paper, parents of school-aged children throughout Hawai’i are shelling out big bucks in an effort to land big college athletic scholarships as a means to pay for higher education.
But how realistic is the dream of athletic stardom to the average school-aged child?
According to the NCAA, the likelihood of a high school football player making it onto the roster of an NCAA institution is less than 6 percent. And more than half of these opportunities are non-scholarship programs and not at the big-time Division I schools that dominate the Saturday TV schedules. The odds of going pro in football are less than 1 in 1,000. The odds of success in basketball are even slimmer at 3 in 10,000. I hope it leads parents to ask the question, “Even if my child has the athletic ability, will he be able to academically get into the college that offers that full ride?”
The NCAA a while back set minimum academic standards for all freshmen going to Division I or Division II schools (these are the ones that can give out athletic scholarships). These standards include: graduation from high school, completion of a minimum of 14 specific college prep or “core courses,” and a minimum SAT/ACT score. These requirements will be more rigorous starting with the 2008-2009 academic year. Perhaps these same parents should start to put the same level of emphasis on after-school tutoring in math and English as they do on conditioning, weight-training and athletic-skill development.
Fortunately, there are opportunities for academics as well. For the past three years, I have been involved with a summer camp in La’ie called Game Plan Hawai’i, which is put on by Education 1st, a local nonprofit. The Game Plan program emphasizes more than just athletic skills. It looks at what it takes to get involved in, and best benefit from, the college experience.
The Game Plan Academy seeks to prepare local students (around three-quarters of the participants to date have been Native Hawaiians) to get into and succeed in college, not just athletically but also academically. More than 70 percent of the participants during the academy’s first three years have gone on to college, not just to play but to succeed.
This year Education 1st added the Game Plan Football camp, where more than 230 Hawai’i high school football players went to develop their playing skills under the direction of some of the top coaches in the nation. These players also developed mental skills not associated merely with football. The football camp addressed academic preparation for college. Education 1st co-founder Asai Gilman sums it all up in Stephen Tsai’s Aug. 8 article, “Lessons learned on and off the field,” in the following words: “We didn’t want to just mentor in football. If you have the talent but can’t get into school, it ends, doesn’t it? We wanted a full program to teach the players how to become better student-athletes.”
More parents should feel the same way.
Wayne M. Tanna is a professor of accounting and an NCAA compliance officer at Chaminade University. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.
The near collapse of our financial system and the massive fiscal mess that we are still struggling with has provided a lot of teachable moments for me and hopefully a few “aha” and light bulb going off revelations for my business and accounting students. The legal reforms coming out of the ruins of an “I want it all and I want it all now” mindset have given those of us who teach business ethics and corporate social responsibility a lot of material to cover. My new assignment in my Business Law and Ethics class as listed in my syllabus is as follows:
“A term paper is a required part of this course. There is an option to engage in a service-learning project as a substitute for the term paper. The term paper will be hereafter referred to as the Dodd-Frank paper (Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, Pub.L. 111-203, H.R. 4173)”.
The service learning option is to work with fifth graders at Palolo Elementary School and teach them about math (fractions, percentages and ratios) and social, economic and environmental justice through something we call the “Palolo Stock Market Challenge.” The stock market project uses the basics of fundamental analysis and financial statement analysis (stuff taught in basic accounting and investment classes at Chaminade) and looking at the environmental, diversity and employment practices of publically traded multi-national corporations just like they do in the Business Law and Ethics class to determine if a company is socially and environmentally responsible.
This is fertile ground to incorporate the themes of Catholic social tradition that can help students and their teachers gainvaluable insight on the responsibilities of corporations. Responsibilites that go to various stakeholders, not merely the corporation’s responsibilities to their shareholders to make as much profit as possible. As posed in the article “Civic Engagement in Catholic and Marianist Universities” learning for and through civic engagement can be done in the context of today’s society by examining the “Themes of Participation, Dignity of Work and the Rights of Workers, and Caring for God’s Creation.” The sample questions posed in this section of the “Continuing Conversation” provide a lot of guidance for the teacher and their classes. The queries listed as examples can provide the basis for inquiry:
“How does the corporate culture promote human dignity, the dignity of work, and participation in shaping the future of the corporation?”
“What are the contributions that a corporation makes to the common good of society?”
“What are the responsibilities of the corporation for stewardship of creation when we consider the types of products that it makes and its use of resources?”
We in the business school have a real responsibility to help our students and soon to be business practitioners better understand the questions and the range of answers to the above questions, this is critical as our students will become the next generation of business movers and shakers.
In hind sight we as business professors have to deal with some of the sad facts of this continuing financial mess because some of those corporate sociopaths who prompted this whole fiasco were “our” graduates. We need to critically reflect on questions like why didn’t those students we taught become business persons who were trying to figure out how to help working-class families afford homes in a fiscally and socially responsible fashion?
So now let’s get back to me. In 2009 (what was to be the last full year of the Advertiser), I had the opportunity to be a member of the Honolulu Advertiser’s Community Editorial Board. In that process we were given the task of writing commentaries on current issues. I wrote the following and shared some of my concerns and thoughts about what might happen. The article was originally published in the Honolulu Advertiser on August 2, 2009.
Recently the cover of a national news magazine proclaimed that “The Recession is Over.” Perhaps it should have had the subtitle “but not for all of us.” Job losses are at 30-year highs both nationally and locally and everywhere people keep losing, their jobs, their homes and all too often their hope.
But if the recession is technically over, was the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and the Troubled Asset Relief Program the big reasons for our financial salvation? And what aspects of these stimulus programs did the most?
There is good stimulus and bad stimulus. It’s good when it helps people buy or keep their homes. It’s bad when the “too big to fail” financial services firms get to pay multimillion dollar bonuses to a few key executives.
It’s good when it helps the environment by taking old gas guzzlers off the roads, and bad when we do this merely to prop up the same failing automakers we just bailed out at the expense of environmental programs.
It’s good when workers get more take-home pay to spend on everyday necessities. It’s going to be bad when those same workers find that the new tax withholding tables issued to increase take-home pay causes them to have to pay taxes come April 15 next year.
So while technical indicators may say the recession is over, taxpayers will still feel the pain. The recovery may be just as painful for many of us as we see the news of bankers, car companies and TARP recipients once again reaping in big bucks and bonuses.
Wayne Tanna of McCully is a professor of accounting with an interest in tax policy.
I am still working my way through the text of the article we were given to read in preparation for the Marianist Universities Meeting at St. Mary’s university. Today I am at the section on “Catholic Social Tradition and Learning for and through Civic Engagement” where it starts “The Catholic social tradition can be helpful for civic engagement in two important ways: 1) in thinking about the process for learning through civic engagement and 2) as a resource for ideas or practical knowledge to be utilized in social inquiry.” The process of social inquiry that is discussed here is said to be “captured in the simple phrases — See, Judge and Act. To which we add the important component from experiential learning and service learning theory – Reflect.”
I am also still working my way through incorporating the op-eds I have had published over the past half dozen years as well. In 2008 both the federal and Hawaii state governments were giving out tax rebates in an effort to stimulate the economy. The federal stimulus payments were to be paid to Americans by the Internal Revenue Service based on income tax returns that were filed for the previous (2007) tax year. The problem was that many elderly living on social security and disabled living on social security disability income, veterans disability and other disability programs do not have a legal responsibility to file a tax return and had not filed any tax returns for years. Since these folks had no tax filing responsibilities and they would most likely not file again they would not receive these valuable stimulus dollars. This could be a very real loss to this group as they are already living off of limited income and could really use this benefit.
The “Act” component of “See, Judge, Act and Reflect” was clearly called into play here and the opportunity for students and faculty to become civicly engaged became very real. Students in my undergraduate and MBA tax classes had the opportunity to participate in service learning projects that not only involved filling out tax returns, but also incorporated other aspects of their business curriculum, like marketing and communications. Getting the word out on the need to file tax returns even if not legally required in order to get these valuable federal and state tax credits became part of the academic call of the semester.
On the service side of the civic engagement continuum, we really “kicked butt.” We went to veterans centers to assist disabled vets that had not filed taxes for years get their returns done. We went to senior centers and helped our kupuna file tax returns that enabled them to get the stimulus and other credits that they would not otherwise have received. While not huge amounts, they were dollars that helped to get a few more essentials in life and of course they were dollars that they were legally entitled to.
My efforts, in addition to doing the tax returns myself and supervising my students, included writing the following op-ed. This piece was originally published in the Honolulu Advertiser on February 29, 2008 (the day twenty of us went to the island of Molokai to do a service learning gig on taxes and FAFSA applications). The article was also republished in a couple of local and national newsletters that were put out by representatives to the Hawaii and US legislature. And yes, I got my face in the paper again.
Posted on: Friday, February 29, 2008
Help available to ensure access to rebates
By Wayne M. Tanna
Much is being said about the government’s $152 billion economic stimulus package. The majority of the reactions focus on the hoped-for economic impacts resulting from the stimulus payments and are coming from the businesses where the rebates will hopefully be spent. Many business owners are hoping to see a lot of purchases that will provide a boost to the economy. Some even have gone so far as to say that the rebates will enrich people’s lives.
So what about people who could really benefit from the stimulus payment and the state’s constitutionally mandated credit — the elderly, the disabled and really low-wage earners? Will they be left out?
Many retired and disabled Hawai’i residents will end up missing out on both the stimulus rebate and the Hawai’i constitutional credit unless they file both federal and state income-tax returns for 2007. As pointed out in Greg Wiles’ article, Hawai’i’s stimulus portion is roughly $400 million. There will be no extra work for most taxpayers since the Internal Revenue Service will use 2007 tax returns to determine eligibility and rebate amounts.
But what if you are a senior citizen living on Social Security or a disabled individual surviving on Social Security disability income? Since many of these folks have not needed to file a tax return for several years, the question becomes, “Will this benefit ever reach them?”
The IRS is also worried about this. Acting IRS Commissioner Linda Stiff recently stated, “(W)e are especially concerned about recipients of Social Security and veterans benefits, who may need to take special steps this year to file a tax return in order to obtain a stimulus payment. IRS.gov will help taxpayers get what they need.”
But there are problems in relying too heavily on the Internet and the IRS’s Web site to help with this group, as they may not be computer literate. And for those who are able to navigate the Internet, how many on a limited fixed-income can afford access to a computer to get this information at IRS.gov?
For kupuna and the disabled, another benefit that may end up being left in the coffers of the government is the state credit for general income tax. The Hawai’i Constitution requires the state to issue a tax refund when the budget surplus has exceeded projections for two years in a row, as is the case this year. This year, to comply with this constitutional mandate a credit is available to low-income residents (less that $30,000 for single and married people filing separately; less than $60,000 for married people filing jointly and head of household).
The credit can be as much as $65 for single individuals, up to $140 for single parent head of households, and up to $160 for married couples.
This is all in addition to the refundable tax credit for low-income workers, which has been available for many years. Once again, one needs to file a state tax return to claim and receive the credit, and this year the state tax department was not able to provide free assistance to Hawai’i residents to file their Hawai’i tax returns as it has in the past.
A single disabled resident receiving Social Security disability can get as much as $400 from the federal and state credits (federal stimulus payment $300, $65 Hawai’i general tax credit, plus $35 Hawai’i low-income refundable credit).
A married couple with both spouses receiving only Social Security could get up to $830 ($600 federal stimulus, plus $160 Hawai’i general tax credit, plus $70 Hawai’i low-income refundable credit).
The money is there for the asking — but what if you don’t know how to ask?
Help is available from many community-based organizations. Trained volunteers participating in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance and the Tax Counseling for the Elderly programs have been helping for many years, and are once again providing countless hours of service to the community by doing taxes for free. Combined, the VITA and TCE volunteer programs are the third leading filers of income taxes nationally.
Many of the activities of both VITA and TCE are being coordinated by Aloha United Way’s Family and Individual Sufficiency Program. AUW’s efforts are making it very easy to find a free tax-assistance site in your neighborhood. All you have to do to find a location to get help is to call 211, AUW’s statewide information referral line. Then go to the site where an IRS certified volunteer will provide free assistance filing your taxes, and sometime around May the IRS will direct deposit the stimulus payment to your bank account or under certain conditions mail you a check. Then what you do with the stimulus payment after you get it will be up to you.
Wayne M. Tanna is a professor of accounting at Chaminade University and a volunteer instructor and community partner at the VITA program. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.
(© COPYRIGHT 2008 The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.)
As one who is not Catholic and not Christian, it seems that I will have to do a lot more to prepare for the Marianist Universities Meeting at St. Mary’s than the rest of the group. So I continue to study (really hope that my students are studying as well as my finals are known to bring tears to the eyes of those that have to take them. Obviously I am also hoping they are reading this post and getting the study message). So in the report we have been given to help us prepare for the MUM gathering there is a section that applies the concept of the “continuum of civic engagement” to the issue of homelessness.
This section emphasizes the importance of learning by doing or what the academics call experiential learning (I will toss in a sidebar: this makes me think of a conversation or perhaps an argument I had several years ago with an administrator who insisted that this entire endeavor was merely an experimental attempt at learning and thus would purposely call this process experimental learning).
KEEPING IT REAL
Learning by doing in the context of education is the heart of a pedagogy that we apply in the business program at Chaminade. That pedagogical method is called service-learning and engages the learner and the teacher with the community outside the four wall of the traditional classroom. In the community academic knowledge is applied in ways designed to solve or at least reduce problems that confront individuals and organizations that live and work in the community. The true power of service-learning comes from the participants’ reflections on the work that was actually done. Reflections allow for the integration and reinforcement of what was learned in class and what was accomplished in the community.
For nearly twenty years, my undergraduate (AC306) and MBA (MBA778) tax classes have come along with me to homeless and domestic violence shelters during tax filing season to file tax returns for the residents of these places. Yes they really work. Current estimates of the homeless population in Hawaii indicate that 40% of them have worked in the past year. This work often qualifies them for valuable tax credits like the earn income tax credit (the nation’s largest anti poverty program), the child tax credit (a third of our homeless are school aged children), child and dependent care credits as well as regular tax refunds for over withheld federal and state taxes. During this time period we have helped working poor and homeless taxpayers and their families get almost $5 million in refunds and credits. This critical capital infusion into the lives of our working poor neighbors has often times extended to them a hand up out of homelessness. As I have mentioned in my various op-eds, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) has lifted millions out of poverty not a bad service for students at a Catholic Marianist university to be involved with. And as I hope you will see, I am also an advocate for social and economic justice. This is sometimes a difficult position to maintain as I am also a professor at Chaminade. What this means is that I have to walk the line between advocacy and lobbying. My work and my contacts have put me into a position where I have access to lawmakers and thus the ability to reform or create laws. I also draft legislation to address economic inequities. I believe that these actions are in accord with the principles expressed as part of the civic responsibilities of those who work at Catholic and Marianist universities.
Continuum Applied to Homelessness
|Shelter homeless persons||Reduce housing costs through tax credits or low-income housing|
|Find jobs for homeless persons||Increase wages of working poor to make housing affordable|
|Provide emergency assistance to prevent evictions||Reform laws to protect tenants’ rights and enforce building codes|
All that said, here is another reflection (limited to 500 words) of mine on homelessness, poverty and of course – taxes as it appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser on Friday, March 10, 2006. And yes, I still have bunch of these that I still have to work into this blog before I get to San Antonio.
INCENTIVE TO WORK
FOCUS STATE TAX POLICY ON POOR
OK, “Hawai’i must raise standard tax deduction (March 3 commentary by Sen. Robert Bunda).” Social and economic justice dictates such an action. So while the Legislature looks into this long-overdue change in state tax policy, it should take this opportunity to develop a more comprehensive plan to address the issue of poverty in Hawai’i.
While tax policy is clearly not a cure-all and while there are other critical issues, the process needs to start somewhere. Since everyone knows there is a budget surplus and that the Legislature seems intent on using a big part of it to benefit the taxpayers, the cards are on the table. The hand that Sen. Bunda revealed plays naturally to the role of tax policy in dealing with the issue of poverty.
A simple idea can serve an initial unifying thread: Government should find ways to stop making work a burden on the poor. This just might keep a lot of folks from falling deeper into poverty or even from becoming homeless. Tax relief should be focused more on the working poor instead of the already rich.
As Sen. Bunda so accurately depicted, Hawai’i has one of the highest income tax burdens on the poor. Add the excise tax on everything and it’s a wonder more families are not so deep into poverty that homelessness is not a greater problem than it already has become.
Sen. Bunda’s commentary references the Feb. 22 Advertiser article “Families in poverty pay state taxes, too.” This article begs the question, why do we tax those living below the poverty line anyway? The senator correctly points out that we must do something about the fact that families in poverty pay state income taxes, and he refers to a recent report by the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, which found Hawai’i to be one of the worst states for taxing the poor. Using the same methodology, if all we do is increase the standard deduction, next year’s center report will still show that Hawai’i is embarrassingly bad at taxing the poor.
According to an analysis done by the Honolulu social research and consulting firm 3Point, a single parent raising two children currently pays state taxes when her income is only $9,800 (third worst in the U.S.). Increasing the Hawai’i standard deduction to 50 percent of the federal amount would start to tax this family at $10,800 (fourth worst in U.S.). It helps, but since the federal poverty level for this family is $15,577, it is clear more must be done.
A state earned income tax credit almost made it out of last year’s Legislature and should be passed this year. Since the credit provides an incentive to work and rewards low-income earners, not penalizes or demoralizes them, it would be a good part of the plan.
A state earned income tax credit of 20 percent of the federal amount would increase our single parent’s tax threshold to $20,000 (15th best in the U.S.). The budget surplus provides a jump-start for dealing with the issue of poverty. Now it is time for the Legislature to work for a better future by making it pay to work.
Wayne M. Tanna
Professor of accounting, Chaminade University
So I have just been given this blog to attend to and have no idea how to start. Since I am technologically disabled, that is to say very limited in computer abilities, I will initially use this space as a repository for the “opinion editorials or opposite editorials” (op-eds) I have had published locally and nationally. This is just a fancy way of saying that I found a place to recycle my old stuff.
My primary teaching assignment at Chaminade is in an area that covers law, accounting and ethics and since I came into the academy from a practice and advocacy oriented profession, it seems only fitting that I continue on this path. As I have taken a job that requires that I engage in some form of scholarly writing and since Chaminade allows for a broad definition of what constitutes scholarship for those on its faculty I have written a lot of these op-eds. I write on issues related to taxation and its effects on the community as well as matters related to diversity and marginalization. This is just another fancy way of saying that since I am not that smart, I write things directed to the general public and not to the academy. I guess I will have to explain this approach in greater detail later on but for now, I hope that this blog results in more discussion on the various forms of civic engagement that are promoted by Chaminade and its fellow Catholic and Marianist universities. It would be nice to create a place for others in this discussion, especially as it relates to the issue of poverty.
This summer I will be part of a group from Chaminade that is going to the Marianist Universities Meeting (MUM) at Saint Mary’s in San Antonio Texas. This year’s MUM theme is civic engagement. Below is an excerpt from a report “Civic Engagement in Catholic and Marianist Universities: A Continuing Conversation.” The table illustrates the continuum of civic engagement from “service” (action that addresses immediate civic problems) to “social change” (action that addresses systemic change of community structures that provides long term solutions to civic problems). Seems like a variation of that saying on giving a fish and teaching how to fish and how important both actions are.
CIVIC ENGAGEMENT IN CATHOLIC AND MARIANIST UNIVERSITIES
Examples of the Continuum of Civic Engagement
|Focuses on the needs of individuals and families||Focuses on the rights of individuals and families|
|Looks at individual situations||Analyzes social structures|
|Meets an immediate need||Works for long term change|
|Address painful symptoms||Address underlying social issues|
|Depends on the generosity of donors||Depends on just laws and fair social structures|
So after that rather long introduction here is the first of the op-eds that actually made it to print. This article appeared in the Honolulu Advertiser on Monday, March 21, 2005. Hopefully it is applicable to the MUM theme of civic engagement. The subject matter continues to be applicable to things that are still being faced by the working poor in our community:
Posted on: Monday, March 21, 2005
Legislature should adopt earned income tax credit
The earned income tax credit (EITC) benefits very-low-wage workers by decreasing the amount of income taxes they must pay. The federal version of the EITC is refundable, which means that in some cases, a family may receive a “refund” of up to $4,300 even if its income was too low to pay any taxes.
Earned income tax credits provide tax reductions and wage supplements for low- and moderate-income working families. The federal tax system has included an EITC since 1975, with major expansions in 1986, 1990 and 1993, and an additional expansion in 2001. More than 19 million families and individuals filing federal income tax returns, or roughly one out of every seven families that file, claim the federal EITC.
I have witnessed the benefits of the EITC over the years in the lives of many families that successfully made the transition off welfare and out of homelessness into the workplace and market-priced rental housing. In Gordon Pang’s March 8 article, “Lower-paid workers likely to get tax break,” one of the critics of the idea of a state EITC said that the EITC was “initially designed to refund low-wage earners what they pay in Social Security and unemployment taxes,” but that “over the years, they just pulled numbers out of the air.” The EITC is calculated to result in moving large numbers of people out of poverty. The success of the program has been documented in a 2004 study by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington, D.C.-based public policy research organization, as follows:
“The federal credit now lifts more children out of poverty than any other government program. Some 4.8 million people, including 2.6 million children, are removed from poverty as a result of the federal EITC. The federal EITC also has been proven effective in encouraging work among welfare recipients; studies show it has a large impact in inducing more single mothers to work.”
So if this is something that Congress “just pulled out of the air,” then perhaps our state legislators should be reaching into that very same air for the benefit of the children living in poverty right here in Hawai’i.
The federal EITC is the largest anti-poverty program in America. It has lifted millions of poor Americans out of poverty. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have their own version of the EITC in spite of the same types of budget shortfalls that confront us in Hawai’i. These states have made the commitment to help their residents in their pursuit of a better life because it is the right thing to do.
Wayne M. Tanna