Emily Sachs - Community Affairs Intern
Published January 1, 2008 | January 2008 issue
Working families on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Menominee County, Wis., spend an average of $275 for tax preparation services when they could get the same help for free through a local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site.
That kind of money speaks volumes to students at Menominee Indian High School. Since 2005, they've taken part in an annual poster design contest that has helped increase the use of VITA sites and resulted in a greater volume of tax refunds and credits for families on the reservation.
Each fall, freshmen in the school's mandatory Futures in Finance I class create posters to illustrate the concept of saving money on tax preparation. In 2007, about 30 students entered posters in the contest, including a few juniors from the optional Futures in Finance II course. With support from a First Nations Development Institute grant, Family and Consumer Education Teacher Marie Raasch purchased prizes for all the students who entered. Students selected the finalists and then community members chose the winning poster, which was unveiled at a community celebration designed to help get the word out about the VITA program.
Then-junior Rickie Dodge submitted the winning entry for 2007. She received a basket filled with gift certificates and prizes totaling $275—a value equal to the amount a family on the reservation would save by using a VITA site. The Menominee Casino-Bingo-Hotel printed copies of the winning poster to hang at the tribal offices, post office, high school, and elsewhere.
The ultimate goal of the posters is to increase the use of VITA sites and thereby boost the number of federal tax refunds claimed by tribal members. So far, the effort appears to be paying off. For tax year 2006, the number of refunds claimed on the reservation rose to 439, up from 335 the previous year. While the dollar amount of Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits increased by only $15,883 over the previous year, the overall dollar amount of federal refunds claimed on the reservation has risen tenfold since the campaign started.
According to Annette Tourtillott, job-based training specialist at the College of Menominee Nation in Keshena, Wis., there are plans to expand the poster contest by adding a calendar design contest for middle school students. The focus of the new contest will be on the importance of saving and banking.
Emily Sachs served as a Community Affairs intern at the Minneapolis Fed in 2007. She is pursuing a master's degree in public policy at the University of Minnesota Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs.