Tax returns open doors for refugees
Each year, refugees arrive in Winnipeg, many from war-torn countries, basically picking up the pieces of their lives to start again.
The first step along this journey for most is Welcome Place which provides a range of supports for refugees, including settlement services, housing, translation, interpretation, life skills and language training to help families build stable, independent lives.
For many Canadian families, government programs like the GST credit, child tax benefit and other tax credits play an important role in building income stability and independence.
But refugees, despite being eligible for many of these programs, often miss out.
“Many refugee families, due to lack of knowledge or language, don’t have a clear understanding of the importance of filing an income tax return,” explains Dhirta Subedi, settlement counsellor at Welcome Place.
SEED’s Access to Benefits Program has helped families access over $1.2 million in benefits.
Though free tax services do exist, they don’t typically provide the supports needed by refugees like interpretation, extra time for questions, or information about possible tax credits.
SEED Winnipeg, together with a number of community partners, is working to bridge this gap. One approach is SEED’s new Access to Benefits Program, which Welcome Place combines with language supports to provide free tax return preparation, financial literacy education, and information on tax benefit programs.
“Our goal is to be responsive to the needs in the community” explains Kevin Schachter, Asset Building Program Coordinator at SEED. “For many newcomers, getting their taxes done is a pressing need.”
In the 2014 tax season alone, SEED’s Access to Benefits Program has enabled families to access over $1.2 million in benefits.
In learning from each other, both SEED and Welcome Place are able to expand its range of client supports and build a rewarding partnership.
“That’s why partnership is important,” says Dhirta. “We learn from each other.”