HELENA, Mont. (10/15/08)--To help more low-income families receive free tax filing from a special corps of volunteers, the National Credit Union Foundation (NCUF) has approved an Innovation Grant of $10,278 to Montana Credit Unions for Community Development (MCUCD). The NCUF grant will empower MCUCD to expand Montana’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to 13 credit unions and 16 sites. Part of the grant will support AmeriCorps Volunteers In Service To America (VISTAs), a corps that will be specially trained to process tax returns for 3,000 low-income families. AmeriCorps VISTAs will encourage low-income workers to file for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). The EITC is a tax break designed to lift low-income workers out of poverty. “Over its 30-year history, the EITC has developed into the nation's largest anti-poverty program,” explained MCUCD Executive Director Jeanne Saarinen. “Increased capacity and access to VITA sites helps families build wealth by increasing access to EITC and helping families keep more of their tax refunds.” All tax filers are also advised to avoid refund anticipation loans. “We believe our model of statewide credit union VITA sites is sustainable and replicable,” said Saarinen. “MCUCD has the experience and training to set up and run VITA sites in communities without any other free tax preparation sites. We take the burden off of individual credit unions, so each credit union can focus on what it does best--helping members.” This is the first of 14 NCUF Innovation Grants approved this year. During the 2008 Innovation Grants application cycle, NCUF received 41 applications requesting over $2.2 million in funding. This was nearly four times the $600,000 budgeted for Innovation Grants through the Community Investment Fund (CIF). “Grant requests were much higher this year because the needs are much greater,” said NCUF Deputy Director Steve Bosack, the Foundation’s staff liaison to the NCUF Grants Committee. “More credit unions are seeking innovative ways to serve people with low wealth and modest means.” “More credit unions than ever are investing in the Community Investment Fund,” said NCUF Executive Director Steve Delfin. “Yet here’s the paradox: even though CIF balances reached an all-time high, the fund has returned a much lower percentage of grant dollars in 2008. “This is due to federal interest rate cuts from January through September. So especially during these challenging economic times, we thank all 650-plus CIF investors, the NCUF Board and Grants Committee for allowing us to maintain our $600,000 in Innovation Grant commitments and reward credit unions serving low-wealth households,” he added.