In 2003, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund heard an important message: To draw new financial resources into your community, use the Earned Income Tax Credit. Over the next decade, that lesson would transform Jacksonville.
The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) provides a tax credit for qualifying low-income taxpayers that can put cash in their pockets. But in 2003, few Jacksonville taxpayers were taking advantage of the credit, largely out of ignorance.
At a conference hosted by Florida Philanthropic Network, the Jessie Ball duPont Fund learned what other communities had done to encourage low-income taxpayers to claim the EITC. In August 2003, the Fund awarded a grant of $70,000 to United Way of Northeast Florida to lead a team of organizations in creating Jacksonville’s EITC program.
The team included a host of community nonprofits as well as banks, representatives from the Internal Revenue Service and the City of Jacksonville. Despite the late start, the program, which quickly became known as the RealSense Prosperity Campaign, was up and running in time for the tax season in the first quarter of 2004.
The success of that pilot year convinced the Fund that with organization and support, RealSense could have an enormous impact on the lives of low-wealth residents in Jacksonville.
In nine years – from 2003-2011 – the Fund invested $1.98 million in RealSense, supporting staffing, organizational infrastructure and some programming. United Way remained the anchor organization of the community team and provided the day-to-day oversight for RealSense.
More than 85 community entities – from Potter’s House Christian Fellowship and United Way, to WalMart and Bank of America – are partners in the campaign today and that is among the great achievements, says Senior Program Officer Katie Ensign.
“Bringing these partners together and keeping them together working on a practical solution to alleviate poverty in our community has been powerful,” she said. “It demonstrates that we can share responsibility and all be part of the solution.”