SOURCE: National Disability Institute

National Disability Institute

October 28, 2014 14:30 ET

NDI and IRS Event Highlights Partnership Resulting in More Than 2.3 Million People With Disabilities Receiving Tax Refunds of Nearly $2.3 Billion

Event Also Honors Three National Leaders and Explores How the Access to Free Volunteer Tax Assistance and Other Asset Building Strategies and Programs Help Move Americans With Disabilities Toward Greater Financial Capability

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - October 28, 2014) - National Disability Institute (NDI) and the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Stakeholder Partnership, Education and Communication (SPEC) Division announced today that its ten-year collaboration to provide accessible, free volunteer income tax assistance to people with disabilities has resulted in more than 2.3 million Americans with disabilities moving toward greater financial stability by receiving nearly $2.3 billion in tax refunds. 

Director of IRS SPEC Dietra Grant and other IRS employees joined representatives from NDI at IRS Headquarters in Washington, DC, to celebrate the NDI/IRS partnership and to discuss effective coalition building strategies between nonprofits, federal agencies and programs, tax coalitions and asset development groups aimed at promoting full inclusion and increasing the financial capacity of people with disabilities.

"The IRS recognizes the value of the National Disability Institute and all our partner organizations reaching out and helping Americans with disabilities through programs like the Real Economic Impact Tour," said Dietra Grant, IRS SPEC Director. "Our partnership is making a real difference in the lives of people with disabilities by providing access to tools and services such as free tax return preparation and EITC education to help increase financial stability."

Since NDI and the IRS came together in 2005 to better serve taxpayers with disabilities and engaged more than 900 community tax coalitions, asset development and disability organizations across America, the number of persons with disabilities accessing free Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services and realizing they qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) as well as other tax credits has more than doubled, from 6 percent to more than 13 percent. As a result of the initiative, taxpayers with disabilities have also saved an estimated $503 million in tax preparer fees.

"Fast approaching our tenth year of existence, we at National Disability Institute, the first national organization dedicated exclusively to the economic empowerment of people with disabilities, have relied heavily on the support and our strong relationship with the IRS to help improve the financial health of all people with disabilities," said Michael Morris, NDI Executive Director. "In the United States, there are more than 54 million Americans with disabilities, one in three of which live in poverty -- more than double the national poverty rate and among the highest for any underserved population in our country." Continued Morris, "That is why improved access to free volunteer tax preparation services and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) eligibility education is fundamental to bolstering the financial well-being of Americans with disabilities and allowing them to keep more of the money they earned while at the same time taking steps toward greater financial capability." 

In addition to Grant and Morris, event speakers included: Dr. Johnette Harnett, Senior Director of Strategy & Research with National Disability Institute; Katie Metz, Manager of Financial Empowerment and Inclusion, National Disability Institute; and Jamie Robinson, Manager of Financial Empowerment and Workforce, National Disability Institute. Hartnett spoke on NDI's Real Economic Impact Network, a national initiative comprising hundreds of government agencies, organizations and businesses committed to embracing and promoting access to the economic mainstream for Americans with disabilities. Metz and Robinson provided a 2014 recap of MyFreeTaxes, a national initiative of Goodwill Industries International, National Disability Institute and United Way Worldwide, funded by the Walmart Foundation, that provides free federal and state online and in-person tax preparation and filing services to people earning $58,000 or less annually last year. Richard Keeling, Senior Tax Analyst, IRS SPEC, later joined Metz and Robinson to discuss MyFreeTaxes and IRS efforts to reach more and improve tax assistance services to taxpayers and veterans with disabilities. 

As part of the event, NDI and IRS invited Jack Kammerer, Director of Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment Service, Veterans Benefits Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, to highlight the agencies effort to promote financial stability and employment initiatives for people and veterans with disabilities. 

NDI also honored three national leaders at the event for their commitment and service to advancing the economic self-sufficiency and financial capability of people with disabilities. Nationally known disability advocate Eve Hill was honored with the Allen Jensen Humanitarian Public Policy Award, given to an honoree who has created effective change by identifying gaps in existing policy or services and convening and coordinating partnerships to solve them successfully. The award is named in memory of Allen C. Jensen of the Center for Health Services Research and Policy at George Washington University. As a member of the professional staff of the U.S. House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resource, Jensen pioneered pivotal policies affecting people with disabilities.

Hill received the Allen Jensen Award for her years of advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities. Over the course of her career, Hill has promoted employment and economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities through legal advocacy to ensure compliance with Titles I and II of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Currently the Deputy Assistant Attorney General at the U.S. Department of Justice, Hill is a member of the Civil Rights' Division's leadership team and is responsible for oversight of the Division's disability rights enforcement, educational civil rights enforcement and the American Indian Working Group. Prior to joining the Justice Department, Hill worked for Brown Goldstein and Levy, where she was part of the firm's disability rights practice. 

Darryl Eaton, Senior Distribution Analyst, IRS, received NDI's Ron Smith Federal Employee Award, presented annually to a federal employee who works to advance the economic self-sufficiency of people with disabilities. Smith, a retired IRS senior manager who built national partnerships between the IRS and community organizations to increase outreach to low-income taxpayers regarding benefits they were entitled to under the tax code, was on hand to present the award named in his honor. Smith serves on NDI's board of directors. 

In his role, Eaton works tirelessly to ensure people with disabilities have equal access to the information needed to perform their jobs and fulfill their tax obligations. In addition, Eaton works closely with IRS Communications to utilize various social media resources to spread the word about the hundreds of accessible tax products available to taxpayers with disabilities. Most recently, Eaton served as project leader for the development of an online training course to teach IRS authors of electronic media to make their content accessible to people with disabilities. 

Karunya Samuel, a volunteer for the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, was awarded NDI's Richard Keeling Leadership Award, presented annually to a person with a disability that has advanced access to the economic mainstream for people with disabilities on a national and/or local level. The award is named for Richard Keeling, Senior Tax Analyst at IRS SPEC, who works with the IRS's Taxpayers with Disabilities program to provide increased access to tax information, free tax preparation services and other asset building strategies to advance greater economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities. 

Samuel, also known as "Sam," born deaf, was honored for his commitment and service to numerous deaf and blind taxpayers. Sam has worked closely with IRS SPEC to promote awareness and, through his association with Gallaudet University, has recruited students and assisted them with transition into the IRS workforce. Additionally, Sam was instrumental in the incorporation of American Sign Language (ASL) in various IRS communications materials and trainings. 

NDI's sponsors the Walmart Foundation, the Bank of America Foundation, and Acorda Therapeutics were also recognized for their support.

In 2015, NDI will continue to grow its Real Economic Impact Network by expanding virtual trainings, technical assistance and tools to reach more tax coalitions, asset development, individuals with disabilities, disability organizations and other agencies and groups dedicated to economic empowerment. 

For more information on NDI and the Real Economic Impact Network visit http://www.realeconomicimpact.org

About National Disability Institute
National Disability Institute (NDI) is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to building a better economic future for people with disabilities. The first national organization committed exclusively to championing economic empowerment, financial education, asset development and financial stability for all persons with disabilities, NDI affects change through public education, policy development, training, technical assistance and innovative initiatives. NDI and its Real Economic Impact (REI) Network have helped more than 2.3 million people with disabilities receive nearly $2.3 billion in tax refunds and credits. To learn more, visit www.realeconomicimpact.org. Engage with NDI on Facebook: RealEconImpact or follow NDI on Twitter: @RealEconImpact

*Event photos available upon request

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