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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.

In 2021, a Southwest Michigan man, his wife, and their high school aged daughter with special needs found themselves homeless following a plant closure. After being exposed to COVID-19, the family sought assistance from SMCAA through the Emergency Shelter Grant (ESG) Hotel program, due to their need to quarantine for 14 days. Once their quarantine was complete, the family transferred to the SMCAA Family Homeless Shelter.

In December, the shelter staff began reaching out to community partners and agencies to help find the family holiday gifts for the daughter. "It was the best Christmas ever!" she stated after finding the numerous presents waiting for her. SMCAA was also able to assist the family with a vehicle repair, allowing the father to begin job searching.

Shelter staff also provided case management to the family in order to find stable and affordable housing. Now, the family has moved into a rental house near the father's new employer. This is #CommunityActionStrong!

Dear Colleagues,

As we celebrate Public Service Recognition Week and public servants’ tireless commitment to advancing the common good, I wanted to personally reach out and thank you for your unwavering leadership and support of Community Services Block Grant (CSBG).

On behalf of the Administration for Children and Families’ (ACF) Office of Community Services (OCS), I want to thank you for your continued commitment to public service. Thank you for the life-changing work that you do, day in and day out, to support and uplift vulnerable children, families, and communities. Government needs people like you to address the unprecedented challenges our nation is facing. Without your dedication to public service, the mission and vision of OCS – reducing the causes and consequences of poverty, increasing opportunity and economic security of individuals and families, and revitalizing communities – could not be realized.

We are incredibly grateful for you, and we want to hear more about why you chose public service! Follow us on Twitter @OCS_ACFgov and share your story using the hashtags #PublicServiceRecognitionWeek, #GovPossible, and #ServeBecause.

Additionally, in case you missed it, ACF Assistant Secretary January Contreras recently released a message in observance of Earth Day to thank all OCS grant recipients and partners for their work to address the impact of climate change and promote environmental and racial equity. In honor of Public Service Recognition Week, we hope you will take some time to view this heartfelt message.

With gratitude,

Charisse Johnson Director, Division of Community Assistance Office of Community Services

A client was staying in the SMCAA homeless family shelter with her child. SMCAA is the Housing Assessment and Resource Agency (HARA) for Van Buren County, so staff worked with the client and successfully added her to the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) Homeless list. In a challenging housing environment, it was amazing that an apartment was located for the client and her child.

However, the client had some debts she needed to pay off in order to improve her credit before moving into the apartment. These debts were paid off following the client receiving her tax refunds back, including EITC and child tax credit. With her credit bettered, the client was approved to rent the apartment unit and approved for HCV. SMCAA also assisted the client in being approved for Emergency Service Grant's (ESG) Prevention program. The Agency paid the client's rental deposit and the client and her child moved into the apartment. The family will remain with HCV moving forward.

The client thanked SMCAA by saying, "Thank you so very much for all of your help and support. You gave me a second chance and I'm gonna do good things."

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