Category Archives: Uncategorized

Free Tax Assistance for Working Families in Mercer County

By Engy Shaaban

The Mercer Creating Assets, Savings and Hope Campaign (CASH) has partnered with United Way of Greater Mercer County (UWGMC) to offer expanded free tax prep services in Mercer County as part of the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA).

VITA offers free tax services to individuals whose annual income is $65,000 or less. The program provides other services in addition to the free tax prep including assistance filing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), credit counseling, and debt management services.

There are IRS-certified volunteers at all tax sites who are trained in basic tax law. Many locations have volunteers who speak other languages and can assist those who have difficulty communicating in English, as well. You can call 211 or visit nj211.org to find a free tax return preparation site, a full list of New Jersey tax prep locations, and a link for the UWGMC site to schedule an appointment. The majority of the sites, which are listed below, run on a walk-in, first come, first serve basis.

It is worth noting that this year if you are claiming EITC credit, the returns will not be processed until February 15, 2017. This delay will cause the refunds not to be available for at least two weeks later. Be aware of offers claiming that they can complete these returns earlier. Those making such offers cannot submit them and may actually be offering you a loan, instead.

If you are planning to visit any of the sites listed below, you will need to bring the following: picture ID; Social Security Cards (or ITINs) and dates of birth for the taxpayer, spouse, children, and any other dependents you are claiming. Please note that if you are married but filing separately from your spouse, you will also need your spouse’s social security number.

You will also need dates of birth for all taxpayers and dependents, W2 forms, a year-end pay stub, and 1099 forms.

Likewise, you will be asked to present a statement with unemployment amounts paid and taxes withheld, your last paystub or end of year pension statements, ACA healthcare forms 1095-A, 1095-B, or 1095 C and insurance information with months of coverage for each person in the household and records of related medical expenses (totaled).

You will also be asked to provide statements that record charitable contributions of $250 or more (also totaled), rent or mortgage interest statements, and property tax information. Finally, a copy of your last income tax return, bank account and routing number will be needed.

Click here to learn more.

Mercer County 2016 Point-In-Time Count Summary

By Engy Shaaban

Every year, New Jersey conducts a Point-in-Time (PIT) Count of its homeless population. This provides us with statewide estimates of the number of homeless households in our communities and information about where these individuals find shelter, the different factors that contribute to their homelessness, and their current needs. All NJ counties also conduct a similar count within each municipality. The following is a comprehensive summary of the 2016 Mercer County PIT Count, conducted on the night of January 26th, 2016.

Homeless Families and Individuals
On the night of January 26th, a total of 380 households, including 465 individuals, were experiencing homelessness in Mercer County. This is a decrease of 113 households (22.9 percent) and 135 individuals (22.5 percent) from 2015. On the night of the count, families composed of 131 individuals were living in emergency shelters, 37 families were in transitional housing, and ten were in transitional housing programs. There were no unsheltered families identified on the night of the count. These numbers illustrate a 17.5 percent decrease in homelessness among families compared to 2015.

Demographics
There were 38 (8.2 percent) homeless adults between the ages of 18 and 24, 344 (74 percent) adults were over the age of 24, and 17.8 percent of those found to be experiencing homelessness were under the age of 18.

Individuals With Disabilities, Victims of Domestic Violence and Veterans
Of the total number of homeless individuals, 48 percent reported having some type of disability. 56.5 percent of adults reported some type of disability compared to 7.2 percent of children. Among disabled adults, 53.2 percent reported a substance abuse disorder, making this the most prevalent disability (30.1 percent of all homeless adults). Half of disabled homeless children reported a developmental disability. On the night of the count, 34 homeless households identified as victims of domestic violence. The report concludes that a total of 47 homeless individuals, who were members of these households, were impacted. A total of 15 homeless veterans were counted on the night of the count, 51.6 percent less than in 2015. This dramatic decrease reflects the efforts of a state and countywide initiative to decrease homelessness among veterans.

Income and Benefits
Of all the homeless households reported on the night of the count, 53.9 percent had no source of income. The majority of respondents reported receiving non-cash benefits on the night of the count, food stamps being the most widely received benefit (received by 30.8 percent of households). In regards to health care coverage, 48.9 percent of households were receiving Medicaid, and 7.1 percent were receiving Medicare.

Length of Homelessness
When asked about the period of time that they have been homeless, 145 of respondents reported that their most recent, continuous episode of homelessness had lasted from one day to one week, 107 reported homelessness between eight days and one month, and 33 had been homeless between 31 days and three months. In total, this means that 285 households reported they had been homeless for less than 3 months. 35 households reported they had been homeless for more than one year. This is a 47.8 percent decrease from 2015.

Cause of Homelessness
When asked about what may have contributed to, or caused, their homelessness, the most common factor that households attributed it to was being asked to leave a shared residence (25.5 percent), followed by eviction (14.5 percent).

Chronic Homelessness
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) defines a “chronically homeless individual” as “someone with a long-term disabling condition, who has been continually homeless for a year or more, or at least four times in the past three years” and/or a family with one adult that meets this definition. According to the count, 20 households, made up of 20 individuals, were chronically homeless in Mercer County. This is a 73.3 percent decrease from 2015. Over the past five years, while the numbers have fluctuated, the total number of chronically homeless individuals has decreased overall by 67.7 percent. Between 2015 and 2016, the number of unsheltered chronically homeless individuals decreased from 64 to 18; the sheltered chronically homeless population decreased from 11 to two.

Unsheltered Homelessness

HUD defines an “unsheltered homeless individual” as any individual or family “with a primary nighttime residence that is a public or private place not designed for or ordinarily used as a regular sleeping accommodation for human beings, including a car, park, abandoned building, bus or train station, or camping ground.”

According to the count, 44 individuals were living unsheltered in Mercer County. These numbers represent a decrease 61 households and individuals from the 2015 statistics.

In regards to the length of homelessness, more unsheltered individuals reported that their households’ most recent continuous episode of homelessness had lasted for over a year than any other length of time (52.3 percent). In total, 70.5 percent of unsheltered households had been homeless for more than six months.

It is important to note that the report focuses primarily on individuals who meet HUD’s definition of ‘homelessness’. It does not however include information about those who may be at risk of homelessness or considered homeless under other federal statutes. It is also important to consider the count’s design. The statistics above only represent the gravity of the issue on a single night. Under counting has been and continues to be a concern of the HUD which recognizes that during cold weather, like that of late January, additional services and sheltering are provided, making numbers like those for “unsheltered homelessness” significantly lower.

The issue of homelessness is far more complex than the statistics that we have included. We share these numbers as a snapshot and we hope that the information included in this summary acts as an incentive to approach the problem with continued persistence in community like Trenton and others across the state and the nation.

The official Mercer County PIT count report can be found at http://monarchhousing.org.

Clinton and Trump Hold Rallies in Philadelphia Area

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Both of the leading presidential candidates came to rallies in Southeastern Pennsylvania this weekend that were attended by thousands of people.

Republican Donald Trump spoke at an event at an athletic club in the suburban Bucks County township of Newtown on Friday evening. Topics addressed by Trump ranged from immigration to Common Core, and he also discussed manufacturing in the region, stating that “just a few miles from here, there’s a famous bridge that says Trenton Makes, The World Takes. Under a Trump administration, I can promise you we are going to start making things in America again.” At one point, after making claims regarding crime rates in the country, Trump said “you don’t hear that from these dishonest people back there, meaning the media, look at them”, at which point the entire crowd turned around and booed, chanting ”CNN sucks” and other lines.

The following evening, both Democratic candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and vice-presidential candidate Senator Tim Kaine took the stage 30 miles south on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, with the Center City skyline in the background. Clinton, speaking outdoors on one of the coldest nights of the season, mentioned mass incarceration, the economy, higher education, and other issues. Additional speakers included candidates for Pennsylvania state offices and Katie McGinty, a candidate to represent Pennsylvania in the United States Senate.

One of the 7,000 attendees at Clinton’s rally was resident Michael Grant, best known as Philly Jesus, who told The Wall that having events like this in Philadelphia is “nice”, but that he is “on the fence” about which candidate he supports.

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Local Residents Honored at The White House

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By Jared Kofsky

On Thursday, President Barack Obama honored the recipients of the National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal in the East Room of The White House in Washington, DC.

Elaine Pagels, of Princeton, was one of the honorees. It was announced at the event that “through her study of ancient manuscripts and other scholarly work, she has generated new interest and dialogue about our contemporary search for knowledge and meaning”. Pagels is a professor at Princeton University. James McBride, an author from Lambertville, received the National Humanities Award “for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America”.

Other honorees included the Prison University Project, which allows incarcerated people in California to take college courses, Terry Gross, the host of Fresh Air on WHYY 91 FM, Mel Brooks, and Berry Gordy.

Click here to see photos from the event.