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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.

I will be forever grateful for the SMCAA and especially the Weatherization Dept! I thought I had an idea of what to expect, however, from beginning to end, everyone involved exceeded my expectations! This agency, its people, are a hidden gem in SW Michigan.

Sandy, Elizabeth, and Nathan were so good to answer the phone or return my call. They answered my questions which was very reassuring. They are very proficient.

Ethan is more than proficient! He is a walking encyclopedia with all the knowledge and equipment that determines what a house is and what it should be. God Bless him!

My hone was built in 1955 and in all its years it never had much TLC. Ethan was able to determine what it needed. And boy, was it needy! I was surprised to learn that the walls in the house had almost no insulation! I am thankful for all the testing he did on my home. He is a very compassionate person.

The day that Hart Heating & Air came to my home, my neighbor across the street had a gas leak. My street was full of fire trucks, police cars, and Michigan Gas. They were able to take care of the immediate problem. But, Johnny needed to find someone to fix it permanently. I had gone outside when I saw Johnny (he’s elderly) and talked with him. With his permission, I called Morgan at Hart Heating and explained the problem to her. She was able to get in touch with her dad, Paul, and he came over and took care of Johnny’s problem. At the same time, Marcus and Grant came to my house to clean and work on my furnace.

This family business rose to meet the need of an elderly gentleman immediately along with keeping their scheduled appointments. That was an amazing and wonderful blessing! I am so thankful for Morgan’s coordinating everything and her dad taking care of Johnny.

Even though Marcus and Gran worked on my furnace, sadly, later on, it had to be replaced. Marcus and Grant also replaced an old bathroom vent downstairs, and vented it outside. They also reworked some wiring. I found out I had two lights that I didn’t know were there!

Bill Flory and his family/company are an amazing, living proof of what work and family should be like. These men work together so beautifully, they are like the harmony in a song. They are never off-key. They know each other; they know what needs to be done, and they do it quickly, quietly, and efficiently. They are also very respectful of the house they are working on. They cover everything with plastic. So glad! Bill was able to repair a leak in the skylight and there were a couple other repairs/replacements that were done – some gutters over the front porch and a couple of boards in the garage to cover the holes from insulating. Bill was able to match the paint in the living room to cover the holes from insulation. These gentlemen know what they are doing and they do it with love and respect.

Joe Margheorone replaced the furnace. He could use another pair of hands. He did a great job replacing the furnace and hooking up the pump for the water from the condensation. He is very good at what he does. He went over everything with me when it was all done. Several hours after he left, he called me to check and see how the furnace was running. He reminded me of a doctor calling to check on his patient. He made my day!

I apologize for the length of this but I felt you should know what good, kind, caring, responsible people/companies you have working for this program. Every one of them have gone that “extra mile.”

I loved my home when I bought it. I love it even more now, not just because of all the work that has been done on it but because of the people who did the work.

It was a joy and a pleasure to have this work done. I feel like my home has taken one huge step forward to becoming the house that it should be.

I will be forever grateful for this program and the people that do all this work! God Bless you all!

I direct a program called Commodity Day which is a once per month delivery of a

box of nonperishable food and two pounds of cheese provide through SMCAA.

The boxes of food and cheese are often accompanied by fresh fruits and

vegetables and even masks and sanitizer during the COVID months. Not only has

SMCAA provided Commodity Day benefits, but they have helped with utility and

home repairs for our participants, most recently arranging for the repair of

plumbing for an elderly resident.

As a Cass County Commissioner, I am in a position to see how the residents of the

community are helped by SMCAA, and when I am called by pastors of local

churches or local leaders, I know I can count on SMCAA to help. Throughout the

almost 12 years of my service as Commissioner, I have advocated for SMCAA and

how willingly they have given assistance to those in need. It is my hope that

SMCAA will continue to be a valuable resource for our community

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