Many people with low incomes look forward to tax time, as it allows them to recoup most or some of the money they’ve paid in taxes throughout the year.

However, many are unaware of programs available to help increase their return, or to help them retain their hard-earned money.

“The Oklahoma Department of Human Services offers a number of assistance programs year-round to families in need,” said Cherokee County DHS Director Steven Edwards. “We offer Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, food stamps, SoonerCare and daycare subsidies to qualifying families.”

In addition special services are available to elderly, blind and disabled people through DHS.

“All services have specific applications,” said Edwards. “Those interested in applying may come to the office and make an appointment to see a social worker, or they’re welcome to wait here until one becomes available.”

Most applications require an applicant to provide a Social Security Card, income verification (payroll stubs), rent receipts and receipts for expenses.

“DHS provides daycare assistance to families based on income and the number of children enrolled,” said Beverly Terrell, social services specialist. “The daycare must be licensed by DHS. Applicants need to bring their Social Security Card, their current work schedule, payroll check stubs for the past 30 days.”

With the application information, DHS verifies need.

“If the household has two parents, both must be working to qualify,” said Terrell. “If there is an absent parent, working parents who are not already receiving child support must go to Oklahoma Child Support Enforcement to try and obtain child support before need can be determined.”

According to Edwards, once an application is complete and verification is approved, child care assistance can be provided in as little as 48 hours.

Social Services Specialist Nancy Turtle thinks the daycare assistance program is one of DHS’s most successful offerings.

“A lot of our clients can’t afford to pay for daycare on what they earn,” said Turtle. “Plus, it’s another avenue for them to pursue past-due or back child support owed to them.”

Child care assistance is also available through the Cherokee Nation for tribal citizens.

“Cherokee Nation is another option disadvantaged families have,” said Turtle. “However, tribal citizens are not required to seek assistance from the Cherokee Nation, they have the option of using DHS.”

Turtle said guidelines for the Cherokee Nation programs are available at the tribal complex through the family assistance department.

Given an option, Edwards would encourage displaced workers to find employment on their own rather than using the TANF work program available through the state.

“Clients who are eligible can receive up to 60 months of assistance through TANF, but it pays less than minimum wage,” said Edwards. “For instance, TANF clients receive an $8-per-day stipend in addition to their grant, and are required to work 35 hours per week. Many people who work for minimum wage would qualify for food stamps and child care assistance and would make a lot more money.”

Benefits from the IRS are also available for a number of qualifying families, including the Earned Income Credit.

Earned Income Credit is extra money an employed person who files a federal tax return can get. Sometimes EIC is called “EITC” or Earned Income Tax Credit. EIC and EITC are the same thing. Because EIC is a “credit,” this is money individuals can get in addition to a tax refund. Those who qualify can get as much as $4,300.

Those needing assistance with filing a tax return can contact Lisa Williams, at Cookson Hills Community Action.

“We’ve offered tax preparation for simple tax returns for the past three years,” said Williams. “The program has been very successful, and I know we served over 152 families last year.”

Cookson Hills Community Action will offer tax preparation beginning in January. Those interested may call (918) 456-0571 to set up an appointment. The center also offers an interpreter for Spanish-speaking taxpayers. The service is provided for free.

According to the IRS Web site, www.irs.gov, those who paid someone to care for a child or a dependent to work, may be able to reduce taxes by claiming the credit for child and dependent care expenses on the federal income tax return. This credit is available to people who, in order to work or to look for work, have to pay for child care services for dependents under age 13. The credit is also available for those who paid for care of a spouse or a dependent of any age who is physically or mentally incapable of self-care.

The credit is a percentage, based on adjusted gross income, of the amount of work-related child and dependent care expenses paid to a care provider. The credit can range from 20 to 35 percent of a person’s qualifying expenses, depending upon income.

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