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Tax time, though important, is rarely anyone’s favorite time of year. For low-income people, this is a moment of additional anxiety due to, among other things, the high tax preparation fees often taken from refunds that they could use to create a financial safety.

Driehaus Foundation grantee the Center for Economic Progress (CEP) helps to ease the burden of tax time for working poor people by providing free tax preparation for families across the Chicago metropolitan region and Springfield. With the help of a large force of volunteers, the number of tax returns CEP completes is second only to one of the nation’s largest for-profit preparers. In addition, CEP’s highly-trained volunteers provide financial advice, pull credit scores, and help create plans for long- and short-term financial goals.

CEP can now take these essential services on the road to reach more people with their “Progress on the Go” financial services bus, a 40-foot mobile financial center. It is equipped with multiple computers, WiFi, and screens to ensure privacy during tax preparation and credit counseling.

Gentrification and other forces have pushed former city dwellers in the suburbs. “Though they may find more reasonable housing, many of the suburbs they move to are without services that help them to be successful. The Progress on the Go bus enables CEP to reach 1,000 new people in need of tax counseling and financial planning services in cities west of Chicago like Melrose Park and Stone Park,” said Emily Hansen, the senior director of development. These communities have no free tax preparation or financial counselling services available.

In 2016 CEP reported impressive results:

  • Nearly 700 volunteers donated more than 27,000 hours of tax preparation and financial counseling.
  • More than 18,600 tax returns were filed on behalf of working poor families for free.
  • In total, CEP clients received more than $28.5 million in tax returns an average of $1,500 per tax return.

The idea for the Progress on the Go bus came out of a Progress Makers grant funded by the Citi Foundation. The Progress Makers grant was a $20 million grant initiative to “support visionary nonprofit organizations in their efforts to establish new approaches to long-standing urban economic challenges across the United States – including economic development, environment sustainability, urban infrastructure, and affordable housing.” Citi Foundation Awarded 40 grants across the country.

CEP’s large volunteer force is responsible for much of its programming. People with and without financial services backgrounds can apply to volunteer. To learn more click here:

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