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United Way offering free tax preparation service for low income households

With a mid-April tax-filing deadline just a few months away, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is once again offering free tax preparation for households with incomes below $56,000.

RVAHub Staff

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With a mid-April tax-filing deadline just about 10 weeks away, United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg is once again offering free tax preparation for households with incomes below $56,000.

United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program officially begins today with 16 tax sites across Richmond, Hanover County, Henrico County, Chesterfield County, Charles City, Goochland County, and Petersburg.

United Way’s local team of more than 200 IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers assist taxpayers with completing and electronically filing both federal and state returns. This program also encourages customers to think about ways to save, implement financial best practices and make plans for achieving financial independence. And for those with low to moderate-income, the service helps eligible taxpayers take advantage of potential tax savings through the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).

“United Way’s tax assistance program not only helps ease the anxiety and stress that comes with tax preparation, but the service also promotes financial well-being, one of our nine Steps to Success,” said James Taylor, president & CEO of United Way of Greater Richmond & Petersburg. “Over the past decade and a half, this service has made a tangible difference for local families, particularly those who have taken advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit. This program saves money, reduces tax bills and increases the size of refunds for people who need it the most. We encourage all eligible families to take advantage of this free service.”

In 2019, local United Way volunteers helped secure more than $3 million in tax refunds for 3,667 households in our area. Families who took advantage of the service received a total of $838,300 in EITC funds from the IRS. The average household income for customers was $22,900.

The 16 United Way Volunteer Income Tax Assistance partner locations across Greater Richmond and Petersburg are open at different times and days in order to accommodate a variety of schedules. Find more information here, and a list of sites with operating times is available here.

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Bills advance to expand in-state tuition regardless of citizenship status

The state Senate and the House have advanced bills to make students living in the U.S. without documentation eligible for in-state tuition.

Capital News Service

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The state Senate and the House have advanced bills to make students living in the U.S. without documentation eligible for in-state tuition.

SB 935, introduced by Democratic Sens. Jennifer Boysko and Ghazala Hashmi, would require a student to provide proof of filed taxes to be eligible for in-state tuition. A student also must have attended high school in Virginia for at least two years, been homeschooled in the state or have passed a high school equivalency exam prior to enrolling in a college. The bill reported out of the House appropriations committee Wednesday and heads to the floor for a vote.

Submitting income tax returns would be a challenge for students straight out of high school who have not worked or filed taxes before, according to Jorge Figueredo, executive director of Edu-Futuro, a nonprofit that seeks to empower immigrant youth and their families.

HB 1547, introduced by Del. Alfonso Lopez, applies the same provisions as SB 935, except the requirement to file proof of filed taxes. The bill is currently in the Senate Health and Education committee.

Immigrant rights advocates have openly supported these two bills. Figueredo said he is “thrilled” to see the bill advance.

“This is something that makes a lot of sense. It’s something where we don’t want to have a group of people to get to a point that they cannot reach their highest potential,” Figueredo said.

Attorney General Mark Herring announced in 2014 that Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals students would be eligible for in-state tuition. He said Maryland saw an increase in graduation rates after allowing students without documentation to access in-state tuition rates. Maryland officials believe this led less students to drop out of high school because they saw realistic options for continuing education, according to Herring.

There is uncertainty about the future of the DACA program. A study by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis stated that uncertainty creates a risk for students enrolled in Virginia colleges and universities, who fear they could lose DACA status and access to in-state tuition rates. The institute, which studies issues affecting low-to-moderate income residents, recommended that lawmakers could mitigate the potential impact of that loss by expanding in-state tuition access to Virginia residents regardless of immigration status. The institute said that by doing so the state would also provide more affordable access to colleges for residents whose immigration status does not otherwise fall into the categories currently required for in-state tuition.

Figueredo said that allowing these students to apply for in-state tuition would create more opportunities for undocumented students to become professionals, something that would benefit all of Virginia.

High school graduates in Virginia earn about $35,000 on average compared to people with a bachelor’s degree who earn about $65,000 a year, according to The Commonwealth Institute.

“A person that has a higher level of education in comparison to a person that has only a high school diploma, there are hundreds of thousands of dollars that are not captured in the form of taxes, so that’s a direct benefit right there,” Figueredo said.

Katherine Amaya is a freshman at Northern Virginia Community College. Her family emigrated from El Salvador when she was 8 years old. Amaya said she pays out-of-state tuition rates as an undocumented student, about $6,000 per semester, compared to classmates who pay about $2,000 for in-state tuition per semester.

Amaya said she was on the honor roll throughout high school and her first semester in college. She said she was able to apply for scholarships for undocumented students but it was a competitive process. She was awarded a few scholarships and said she was able to use that money for her first semester of college but is afraid she won’t get as much help in the future.

Amaya said she had many friends in high school that were also having a hard time paying for college or university because they were also undocumented and did not qualify for in-state tuition.

“A lot of them, they couldn’t even afford going to community college, so they just dropped out and started working,” Amaya said. “It’s sad, you know, that they don’t have the money or the help to keep going to school.”

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Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard holds town hall in Richmond

Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard greeted an audience of hundreds Tuesday at the Hofheimer Building on West Broad Street with her signature “aloha” before a brief speech and an audience question and answer session.

Capital News Service

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By Zach Armstrong

Hawaii congresswoman and Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard greeted an audience of hundreds Tuesday at the Hofheimer Building on West Broad Street with her signature “aloha” before a brief speech and an audience question and answer session.

“The clock is running out as we are heading very quickly toward Super Tuesday,” Gabbard said. “There’s nothing I love more than to be here in rooms like this with people like you because this is why I fight.”

Gabbard is the first female combat veteran to run for U.S. president. She also is the first Hindu and one of two female combat veterans to serve in Congress. Elected to the U.S. House in 2012, Gabbard has served on the Foreign Affairs, Armed Services and Homeland Security committees.

Gabbard is campaigning on policies that include a green economy based on renewable energy, a single-payer health care system and ending American warfare where foreign regimes are removed by force.

Audience members asked the candidate questions about school choice, the Second Amendment and term limits, among others. In response to Hanover County resident Dalton Luffey’s question about her top priorities, Gabbard said she believes nuclear war is the biggest threat to the world. Gabbard, who said she joined the Army National Guard after 9/11, campaigns on ending the arms race.

“I like Tulsi because she’s willing to have civil discourse and reach across the aisle,” said Whittney Hooks, a middle school teacher from Montross. “A lot of Democrats want a candidate who reflects the country but most of the frontrunners are old white men.”

Gabbard is seen as a divisive figure within the Democratic Party. After Hillary Clinton allegedly suggested that Gabbard is a “favorite of the Russians,” the Hawaii congresswoman filed a lawsuit against Clinton for defamation. Gabbard resigned as vice chair of the Democratic National Committee so that she could endorse Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for president.

Gabbard’s campaign hasn’t fared well in the early Democratic primaries. The candidate received less than 1% of total votes in the Iowa caucuses while she received 3.3% of total votes in the New Hampshire primary. Gabbard has not received any delegates.

Richmond resident Tim Gabbard, who supported President Donald Trump in the 2016 election, said he attended the town hall after becoming aware of Tulsi Gabbard’s podcasts.

“I love her service to the country. She’s honorable; she fights; she doesn’t back down and she didn’t give into the DNC,” said Tim Gabbard. “She reminds me of Trump, although I wish Trump would speak as eloquently as she does, but at the end of the day they both put our country first.”

Before Virginia Democrats cast their ballot on March 3 to help determine Trump’s opponent in the 2020 general election, the Nevada caucus will be held on Feb. 22 and the South Carolina primary will take place Feb. 29.

During the town hall, Tulsi Gabbard asked by a show of hands how many audience members were Democrats, Republicans or neither with a seemingly even amount of respondents for each choice.

“Look around,” said Tulsi Gabbard. “This is the representation of America.”

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Planning officials unveil conceptual renderings of a future, higher-density Scott’s Addition

Richmond planning officials unveiled a preliminary vision for the Greater Scott’s Addition neighborhood Tuesday evening at Diversity Richmond. The meeting was the third of four held by the Richmond 300 commission studying ways to encourage smart growth, best and highest use cases for future development and redevelopment, and create recommendations for zoning and planning policies that foster cohesiveness neighborhood-wide.

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Richmond planning officials unveiled a preliminary vision for the Greater Scott’s Addition neighborhood Tuesday evening at Diversity Richmond. The meeting was the third of four held by the Richmond 300 commission studying ways to encourage smart growth, best and highest use cases for future development and redevelopment, and create recommendations for zoning and planning policies that foster cohesiveness neighborhood-wide.

While the committees are studying areas around the city, the Scott’s Addition neighborhood is unique in its areas of opportunity, including nearly 30 acres of largely vacant land around The Diamond. Using input from over 1,000 respondents to a survey asking residents and other stakeholders what characteristics future development in the neighborhood should have, planning officials unveiled high-level renderings and cordoned the neighborhood off into six distinct districts. For the purposes of this study, Scott’s Addition encompasses approximately 800 acres and stretches from I-195 on the western bound to Lombardy Street on the east; I-95 on the north to West Broad Street on the south.

The largest and most dense, the Gateway District, would see the encouragement of cohesive, high-density development along Arthur Ashe Boulevard near the Diamond site. Other areas including the “core” of the Scott’s Addition Historic District would remain mixed-use industrial to allow for a variety of uses from single story warehouses to six-to-twelve-story buildings as is currently the case.

The plan emphasizes tenets including open space, affordable housing, walkability, density, and access to transit. De-emphasized are lower density uses like single-story buildings and parking lots, which are no longer allowed as “by right” developments per code.

The renderings were presented on printed boards, charette-style, for attendees to reflect on and leave feedback via sticky notes. Planning officials including Director of Planning Mark Olinger were on hand to answer questions and give clarification. Mayor Levar Stoney opened the meeting with his thoughts on cohesive development, and Second District Councilmember Kim Gray was on hand as well.

After gathering additional feedback from stakeholders, planning staff will create draft recommendations that will guide future growth and development and present a final plan in May.

See the full presentation (PDF) here.

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