SYS-CON MEDIA Authors: Liz McMillan, Sean Houghton, Glenn Rossman, Ignacio M. Llorente, Xenia von Wedel

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National Disability Institute and IRS Collaboration Results in 1.9 Million People With Disabilities Receiving $1.8 Billion in Tax Refunds

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

WASHINGTON, DC--(Marketwired - November 13, 2013) - National Disability Institute and the Internal Revenue Service's (IRS) Stakeholder Partnership, Education and Communication (SPEC) Division announced today that its nine-year collaboration to provide accessible, free volunteer income tax assistance to people with disabilities has resulted in more than 1.9 million Americans with disabilities moving toward greater financial stability by receiving more than $1.8 billion in tax refunds.

IRS Wage and Investment Deputy Commissioner for Support Debra Holland, IRS Associate Director, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion and Chief of the IRS Disability Office TJ Cannady and other IRS employees joined representatives from National Disability Institute and its public and private partners including Goodwill Industries International and United Way Worldwide at IRS Headquarters in Washington, DC, to kick off the tenth year of a successful partnership that has expanded services to citizens with disabilities by promoting full inclusion and increasing capacities of tax coalitions and asset development groups to better serve people with disabilities at a local, state and national level.

Since National Disability Institute and the IRS joined forces in 2004 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 $407 million in tax preparer fees.

"As the first national organization dedicated exclusively to the economic empowerment of people with disabilities, National Disability Institute is proud of its partnership with the IRS and the hundreds of government agencies, organizations and businesses across the country who are part of our Real Economic Impact Network and committed to embracing and promoting access to the economic mainstream for Americans with disabilities," said Michael Morris, National Disability Institute's Executive Director. "Of the more than 54 million Americans with disabilities, nearly one in three Americans with disabilities lives in poverty. That's nearly double the national poverty rate and among the highest poverty rate for any underserved population in our country. Increased access to free volunteer tax preparation services and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) eligibility education has helped Americans with disabilities keep more of the money they earn and take important steps toward greater financial capability."

"The IRS appreciates the National Disability Institute and all our partner organizations for reaching out and helping Americans with disabilities through programs like the Real Economic Impact initiative," said Peggy Bogadi, IRS Wage and Investment division commissioner. "This 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."

In addition to Holland and Cannady from IRS, and Morris and Dr. Johnette Harnett, Director of Strategy & Research from National Disability Institute, event speakers included representatives from National Disability Institute's non-profit partners in the MyFreeTaxes partnership: Amanda Ponzar, Director of Key Stakeholder Communications at United Way Worldwide, and Kammi Siemens, Program Director of Family Financial Stability for Goodwill Industries International. Hartnett, Ponzar and Siemens provided a 2013 recap and 2014 preview 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 per year.

In addition to spotlighting National Disability Institute's outreach on behalf of the MyFreeTaxes partnership to expand free tax preparation services to people with and without disabilities in the public workforce system (American Job Centers) and veterans, Hartnett highlighted tools, training and technical assistance provided by National Disability Institute to help tax and asset building coalitions expand their capacity to serve people with disabilities. Tools include a virtual toolkit on serving taxpayers with disabilities, the Tax Access project created with the Southeast ADA Center that provides a hotline and information to VITA coalitions around the country to answer accommodation and other questions confidentially related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, a free online training course for VITA volunteers on serving people with disabilities, a series of national webinars, and continued training and technical assistance for tax coalitions nationwide to expand service to taxpayers with disabilities. 

As part of the event, National Disability Institute and IRS convened a federal agency panel of experts to discuss financial stability initiatives impacting people with disabilities at their various organizations. L'Tanya Brooks, IRS Director of Media & Publications, moderated the panel which included Cannady, Chief of the IRS Disability Office; Josh Beck, Attorney Advisor to the National Taxpayer Advocate at IRS's Taxpayer Advocate Service; William F. Russo, Deputy Director, Office of General Counsel Office of Regulation of Policy Management, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; David Sieminski, Policy Analyst at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB); and Lekeshia Frasure, Community Affairs Specialist at the Federal Deposit Insurance Company (FDIC).

National Disability Institute honored three national leaders for their commitment and service to advancing the economic self-sufficiency and financial capability of people with disabilities. Disability advocate Madeleine Will was honored with the inaugural Allen Jensen Humanitarian Public Policy Award, given to an honoree who has created effective change for the good of others 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 sub-committee on human resources of the U.S. House Committee on Ways & Means, Jensen pioneered policies affecting people with disabilities such as social services programs and the Supplemental Security Income programs.

Will was honored with the Allen Jensen Award for her more than 30 years of advocacy on behalf of persons with disabilities and her leadership in establishing services nationally for infants and toddlers with disabilities and their families, her promotion of inclusion in general education classrooms for students with disabilities and her creation of transition and supported employment programs for students. A former assistant secretary of the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitation Services (OSERS) in the U.S. Department of Education and policy advocate, Will currently serves as the chief policy officer of the Collaboration to Promote Self-Determination (CPSD), a coalition of 18 national disability organizations co-founded by her which seeks to modernize the federal adult system of services and supports for persons with disabilities. Will also serves on National Disability Institute's board of directors.

Nina Olson, the National Taxpayer Advocate, received National Disability Institute'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 National Disability Institute's board of directors.

Olson is the National Taxpayer Advocate, the voice of the taxpayer before the IRS and Congress. She leads the Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS), an independent organization within the IRS. Olson's agency helps taxpayers resolve problems and works for systemic change in the IRS and the U.S. tax code. Olson was honored for her continued advocacy on behalf of taxpayers with disabilities, including her support for increased accessibility to IRS forms and services.

Susan Mazrui, Director of Global Public Policy for AT&T Services, Inc., received National Disability Institute'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, a senior tax analyst at IRS SPEC, who works with the IRS's Taxpayers with Disabilities program that provides increased access to tax information, free tax preparation services and other asset building strategies to advance greater economic self-sufficiency for people with disabilities.

Mazrui was honored for her work on disability-related public policy issues. She continues to advocate on behalf of the needs of people with disabilities in the communications arena and has served two terms on the Federal Communications Commission's Consumer Advisory Committee and the national advisory committee for the Telecommunications Rehabilitation Engineering Research Center and the Information and Technology Technical Assistance and Training Center (ITTATC).

National Disability Institute's sponsors the Walmart Foundation, the Bank of America Foundation, Acorda Therapeutics and the Burton Blatt Institute at Syracuse University were also recognized for their support.

"National Disability Institute, IRS and our national and local community partners in the field have helped achieve real economic impact for millions of Americans with disabilities. By providing access to tax preparation savings and valuable credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit that resulted in billions of dollars in refunds in credits for people with disabilities that may have been left on the table without this outreach and education," said Dr. Hartnett, National Disability Institute's Director of Strategy & Research.

In 2014, National Disability Institute will continue to grow its Real Economic Impact Network by expanding its 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 National Disability Institute and the Real Economic Impact Network visit http://www.realeconomicimpact.org.

About National Disability Institute

National Disability Institute (NDI) is national non-profit 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, National Disability Institute effects change through public education, policy development, training, technical assistance and innovative initiatives. National Disability Institute and its Real Economic Impact (REI) Network have helped nearly 2 million people with disabilities receive more than $1.8 billion in tax refunds and credits. To learn more, visit www.realeconomicimpact.org

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