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Welcome to Prepare + Prosper's online magazine where we share to spark thought, conversation, action, and change to build brighter financial futures.

Tracy Fischman executive director
Power of voices

Power of voices

The dust of tax season had settled at Prepare + Prosper (P+P) and it was a beautiful Friday afternoon in May. Just before 2 p.m., we received a startling message that there was a proposal at the state legislature that would cut funding for free tax preparation in the state government finance bill. This funding helps organizations like P+P recruit, train, and support volunteers as well as purchase materials like printers and laptops for their tax sites.

Over the last few years we have been increasing our work to shape systems and influence policies that affect the people we serve. We do so through partnering and mobilizing voices on the ground.

We had a quick strategy call with our partner, Minnesota Asset Building Coalition (MABC), and decided the best course of action would be to mobilize free tax preparation sites across the state to reach out and convince legislators that the cut will hurt hardworking Minnesotans. At 3 p.m. on a Friday afternoon, P+P asked some of our volunteers to email to Governor Dayton and key legislators. By 6 p.m., P+P volunteers had sent about 50 emails and some even asked their friends and family to do the same.

In the messages to the legislators, volunteers shared why free tax preparation is important to them. One of them wrote:

I have volunteered with P+P for 10 years — I do this partly to give back to the community. I was a corporate tax executive and witnessed first-hand the complexity and uncertainty presented in the tax code. By volunteering with P+P, I want to ensure the similarly complex rules don’t hinder low income individuals ability to obtain tax credits afforded by the law.

After the emails were sent, we waited. Within a few days we received word that the governor announced he would veto the bill with the cut to funding. In his veto letter, he explicitly mentioned his displeasure with the decision to strip the funding for free tax preparation that helps people with disabilities, the elderly, and low-income families. 

Our organizing worked and the Governor and legislators heard the many voices!

Our collective efforts prevented the state from completely defunding free tax preparation.

Imagine for a moment what would have happened if P+P volunteers and other tax sites did not raise their voices?
P+P staff member Ebrima Ceesay, Senator Mark W. Koran, P+P ED Tracy Fischman, and Anna Odegaard with Minnesota Asset Building Coalition.

P+P staff member Ebrima Ceesay, Senator Mark W. Koran, P+P ED Tracy Fischman, and Anna Odegaard with Minnesota Asset Building Coalition.

This small but mighty example demonstrates the power that volunteers, taxpayers and customers, and staff have to advocate with and on behalf of low- and moderate-income individuals and families. It also shows how important it is to rapidly respond and when necessary change strategy. 

Throughout the session, many P+P volunteers, customers, and staff made calls, sent emails, and met with legislators. We are so grateful for all the time and effort that so many people put into this legislative session. 

Volunteers, customers, and staff who advocated:

  • Kaleena, with her son, pictured at the top of this article, and Angel, P+P customers, testified in the House and Senate taxes committees in support of expanding Working Family Credit.  
  • Current P+P tax site manager in Hopkins, Ebrima, who is also a former volunteer and customer testified in support of the Tax Time Savings bill to increase funding for free tax preparation in the Senate Taxes committee. 
  • Approximately 40 P+P customers who receive the Renters’ Credit shared how they utilized the credit and then many of them contacted their legislators in order to defeat deep cuts (up to 18%) to the Renters’ Credit. 
  • Mary, P+P volunteer, mobilized her book club to send emails to the Governor and legislators about cuts to funding for free tax preparation that was ultimately defeated.  
  • Ms. Jackson who is a FAIR participant, Money Mentor participant, and tax customer had her story read in the House Committee on Job Growth about how the new FAIR product is improving her financial wellbeing.  
  • P+P volunteers Doug, Elaine, Paul, Lyndon, Joe, Kevin, Sean, Kristine, Mary, Ahmed, and Christina sent countless emails and phone calls to state legislators. Other P+P advocates such as Kris, Christy, Dolly, Penthea, and Hannatu Anne also made phone calls and sent emails.
  • Longtime volunteer, Joe, attended a meeting with Congressman Erik Paulsen when he visited Prepare + Prosper’s main tax site in April. 
  • Diane, longtime P+P volunteer, met with state representative Sarah Anderson to share why she volunteers at a free tax preparation site. 
  • P+P Executive Director Tracy Fischman testified in several committees at the Capitol.  
P+P volunteer Joe Bohlke and ED Tracy Fischman with Congressman Eric Paulsen at a tax clinic.

P+P volunteer Joe Bohlke and ED Tracy Fischman with Congressman Eric Paulsen at a tax clinic.

The collective change we helped make:

  • Expanded the Working Family Credit: Under the leadership of the Minnesota Budget Project, we successfully advocated to expand Minnesota's Working Family Credit. The tax bill lowers the age requirement for households without dependent children from the current 25 years old to 21, starting in tax year 2019. 
  • Defeated efforts to cut the Renters’ Credit: Collectively, we defeat efforts to make deep cuts (up to 18%) to the Renters’ Credit.
  • Saved funding for free tax preparation: We started the session working with the Minnesota Asset Building Coalition on a bill to increase funding for free tax preparation. In the end, funding remained steady, but as you read above, we avoided a proposed cut to the funding in its entirety. 
  • Secured funding for FAIR: Included in the Jobs Bill is funding for P+P to expand FAIR (Financial Access in Reach). FAIR bridges a market gap through a set of financial products that move people out of the expensive financial market place (e.g. check cashers, payday lenders) and into the financial mainstream where they have access to products and services to grow their net assets. 

Stay informed and get involved! 
Although Minnesota’s legislative session has ended, there are rumblings about federal tax reform. In President Trump’s budget, there are proposed cuts to Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to the tune of $40 billion. This would effectively raise taxes on the low-wage working families who may no longer be eligible for these credits. We’re listening to our national partners and strategizing how we can effectively mobilize to protect these credits. We recently teamed up with partner organizations Center for Economic Progress in Chicago and Maryland CASH to produce an OpEd, which published in MinnPost:  "Setting the record straight on tax policies that would hurt Minnesotans."

Join P+P’s advocacy list to receive relevant updates and calls to action by emailing Taylor at taylor@prepareandprosper.org and we’ll get you added to the list! 

It's home for me

It's home for me

Where else would I go?

Where else would I go?