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Our Tax Dollars Help Faith-Based Groups and the Government Work for the Common Good

SOURCE: AP/Toby Talbot

Two elementary school students enjoy lunch at the Thatcher Brook Elementary School in Waterbury, Vermont. The U.S. Department of Agriculture often partners with local groups to make sure children from low-income families get enough to eat.

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The overarching impact of Americans’ tax dollars on various government programs is impressive. During fiscal year 2012, for example, 46.6 million people in need received food assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and 31.6 million children received no-cost school lunches from the National School Lunch Program. Between 2007 and 2011 the Federal Highway Administration built 21,664 bridges in cities and towns across America. More than 20,000 employees of the National Parks Service cared for our 401 national parks and 49 heritage areas, which serve and educate more than 275 million visitors every year.

These numbers show our government at work. They often do not, however, show how our tax dollars allow the government to partner with civic and faith-based groups to provide vital financial support and technical assistance. These groups work on a range of efforts to strengthen our communities and improve the lives of Americans across our nation.

As we work toward a more just, equal, and progressive society, we should take note of these partnerships in order to see the real impact of our tax dollars. Here are just a few of the stories that deserve mention on Tax Day:

  • Catholic Charities of the Rio Grande Valley operates a summer free-lunch program for children under the age of 18 in three southern Texas counties through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Summer Food Service Program. Last summer they provided 67,507 meals at 64 sites to mostly elementary school children.
  • The nonprofit Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc., trained local people in low-income rural areas across Alaska to weatherize their homes with assistance from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act Supplemental Funding for Weatherization Assistance to Low-Income Persons. Weatherization can save families up to 50 percent on their energy bills while also creating local jobs. In 2011, 259 Alaskans were hired and trained locally for this program; they weatherized 488 homes, the majority of which were in rural areas.
  • Just days after Hurricane Sandy last October, 7,400 National Guardsmen and women assisted first responders and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, by working at evacuation shelters, delivering essential supplies, participating in search-and-rescue efforts, helping to run shelters, and providing security for areas hit by the storm.
  • The Welfare Reform Liaison Project, a faith-based organization that provides workforce preparation and training in Guildford County, North Carolina, served 275 displaced workers last year through a Community Services Block Grant. The project trained workers in digital imaging, enabling them to fill in-demand jobs in the area; in 2012 the project helped 95 people enter new jobs and six people gain better employment.
  • The Southeastern Idaho Community Action Agency, with assistance from the federal Retired Senior Volunteer Program, or RSVP, trains and organizes retirees in Pocatello, Idaho, to serve their local communities as active volunteers at the town’s visitor center. The seniors also work as mentors and GED tutors to at-risk children. In 2011 nearly 500 volunteers donated more than 58,000 hours to school districts, police departments, local hospitals, and nonprofits in seven counties in southeastern Idaho.
  • Members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North and South Dakota received funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development’s Rural Utilities Service to repair and expand their sewage-treatment system based on the community’s own proposed plan. The new system will improve public health for more than 6,000 people living on the reservation.
  • In Cody, Nebraska, high school students and community members received funds from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to help the 150-person village build its first grocery store, which will open this year. As part of an entrepreneurial education program with the school district, students are learning important business and management skills and practical job skills, such as stocking shelves and managing food orders, with support from local educators and businesspeople.
  • The Internal Revenue Service’s, or IRS, outreach division runs the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which works in partnership with community organizations—especially in lower-income areas—to help taxpayers file their taxes and to give them information about specific tax policies, such as the earned income tax credit, or EITC. In 2012 faith-based partners sponsored 900 free tax-preparation sites staffed with 8,500 volunteers. Taxpayers who were served at faith-based sites received approximately $50 million in EITC refunds.

This Tax Day, it is important to understand the various ways in which community and faith-based groups in our hometowns are working with federal and state agencies to implement projects for the common good. Our tax dollars are improving the lives of many Americans nationwide.

Emily Baxter is the Special Assistant for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress. Eleni Towns is a Research Associate with the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative. For more on this initiative, please see its project page.

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