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The Southwest Michigan Community Action Agency (SMCAA) is asking for your input to help it do an even better job of fighting poverty in the region.  Since 1982, SMCAA has served Southwest Michigan with programs dedicated to helping end the cycle of poverty for those in its service area.

SMCAA explained the process in a statement:

As an agency operating under the national Community Action Agency umbrella, SMCAA is required to conduct a survey every three years as a part of maintaining eligibility for Community Services Block Grant federal funding. The Community Needs Assessment (CNA) will be available to the public for three months.  After which, SMCAA will analyze the results and data accumulated within a comprehensive publicly available report.

This information is vital to the organization, as it not only helps ensure continued funding, but it shapes SMCAA’s strategic planning, programs, development, funding allocations, and more. The collected information is used to assist SMCAA in determining the underlying causes and conditions of local poverty, identifying vulnerable or underserved demographics, and noting gaps in programmatic coverage.

The wider the reach of the CNA, the better the understanding of the needs of the community, and the more impact it will have on SMCAA’s future endeavors and goals. All residents of Berrien, Cass, or Van Buren counties are asked to participate in this survey.  Public input is greatly appreciated by SMCAA, and will help shape the future of Southwest Michigan.

The survey takes an average of five minutes, and the answers and opinions provided go far in continuing SMCAA’s work of empowering diverse people in need.

The Community Needs Survey can currently be accessed on SMCAA’s website –  – as a pop-up option, or under the Get Involved tab. It’s also available on the SMCAA Facebook page.

United Way of Southwest Michigan offering "Volunteer Tax Income Assistance" to qualifying individuals

The tax preparation service is free to residents making $60,000 or less and need assistance in preparing their tax returns. You must make an appointment and VITA will begin taking appointments on January 23.

Contact and details of what’s needed at an appointment listed below. VITA organizers say their services are by appointment only — no walk-in visits.

Berrien & Cass counties:

By appointment ONLY for all qualifying residents of Berrien and Cass counties. VITA will begin taking appointments for these counties starting January 23. VITA will offer tax preparation in locations in Benton Harbor, Niles, Cassopolis, and Dowagiac. The address for the location will be given when making the appointment. Clients must remain at the location during tax preparation—no drop-offs.

To make an appointment, call 269.934.3717.

Van Buren County:

By appointment ONLY for all qualifying residents of Van Buren County.

• South Haven – VITA will begin taking appointments for this location starting January 15. Appointments at Senior Services, 8337 M-140 Street, will be held on Wednesdays only from February 7 to March 20. To make an appointment, call 269.468.9410. Hours to call 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

• Paw Paw – VITA will begin to take appointments for this location starting January 23. The address for the location will be given when making the appointment. Drop-off only, return in two weeks to review and pick up. Drop-offs will be Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-6 p.m. February 1 to March 28. No walk-ins this year. To make an appointment, call 269.934.3717.

All Appointments — WHAT TO BRING:

• Valid picture ID, such as Drivers License, Michigan State ID, Military.
• A copy of last year’s tax return (2022), if you have one.
• Social Security cards for ALL persons listed on the return.
• W-2 and/or 1099 forms from all 2023 jobs.
• 1099-G form, if you or anyone in your household received unemployment Insurance benefits at any time in 2023.
• 1099-INT form, if you received bank interest income in 2023.
• Any statements received from a mortgage company during 2023 or name and address of landlord and amount of rent paid.
• Property tax receipts or bills for taxes paid in 2023.
• IRS notices or letters sent to you or someone in your household during 2023.
• Heating bills from 11/01/22–10/31/23 or contact your utility provider for your 2023 allowable heat credit deduction.
• If you have an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITINs), please bring your ITIN card that was sent to you from the IRS.
• You will need a Social Security number in order to claim the Child Tax Credit.
• Routing number and account number from your bank for your refund to be directly and quickly deposited. You may still receive a paper check.
• If you have received assistance from Department of Health & Human Services in 2023, bring your annual statement.
• Receipts for childcare expenses, including provider’s name, address, and EIN/Social Security number.
• Invoices and/or receipts for residential energy credit.
• Healthy Michigan Marketplace Insurance Information Form 1095-A for 2023.
• If married filing jointly, both spouses must sign the intake form.

The W family was in need of a furnace replacement but did not have the means to purchase one. After going to their local DHHS office, the family received a referral for an emergency repair but would need to fund a portion of the costs. The family was also instructed to contact SMCAA in the Community Development Block Grant Department to assist in the replacement.

Working with DHHS and Efficiency United, SMCAA was able to fulling fund the furnace for the W family. This mean no out-of-pocket expenses were necessary from the family, and they did not need to place a lien on their house in order to receive a new furnace before the upcoming winter.

In addition, the family was eligible to apply for Weatherization -- a program the family had used years prior while living in a mobile home. Since their first experience with WAP, the family had purchased a single-family home and grown their annual household income. The W family utilized their former knowledge of SMCAA services to better insulate their home and ultimately increasing the value of receiving a new furnace as well!

“SMCAA has always been there for me. I really appreciate you for everything, and for helping me with heat, gas, water, or whatever.”

“You have all done enough through God’s eyes for this family. I can’t thank you enough!”

“Staff was very friendly and professional. I truly appreciated their help. Thank you; you are the true heroes during this great time of need.”

“So grateful for the assistance your service provided in a time of need. Having my mortgage paid for a month will help me get enough up on other things. Thank you!”

“I appreciate what you have done for me. It has taken some stress off me. [SMCAA staff member] was very nice to me, I can’t thank you enough for the help.”

“I don’t see any room for improvement. I am so blessed and thankful for this agency. I was treated with respect and y’all had the utmost patience in gathering all the information that was needed.”

“You people are the best. You changed my life.”

“I want to thank [SMCAA staff member] for her kindness and patience with me through this process. I am so grateful for your services.”

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