Cory Derrett did the math—a whopping $1.89 million he helped put back into people's pockets through 516 free tax return preparations in the West End over the past 15 months.
Derrett, the financial empowerment coordinator at Thrive Community Support Circle, is trained and funded by SEED Winnipeg (SEED) to provide tax return preparation, birth certificate applications, benefits advocacy and money management training, all at no cost to clients.
"Cory is basically the success story," says Millie Acuna, manager of asset building programs at SEED.
"He's wonderful and passionate about the work."
SEED and Community Financial Counselling Services (CFCS) have over 100 partner agencies offering free financial services across Manitoba. Agencies choose to have SEED or CFCS provide services to their clients, or they can have their staff trained to do the work onsite themselves.
In 2020, as a response to COVID-19, SEED worked with CFCS and the Community Unemployment Help Centre to set up the Community Financial Helpline—a one-stop portal for Manitobans in need of financial services. Since then the Immigration & Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba joined the team. Hundreds of people have been helped with questions about benefits like CERB and EIA or guided to places like Thrive or the West Central Women's Resource Centre where they can be apply for a birth certificate at no charge.
"People on low income often don't have ID and don't file taxes and access benefits," says Acuna.
"A Birth certificate is your foundation for ID and your door to benefits, and opening a bank account so you can receive these benefits, and then taxes, of course. If you haven't filed your taxes we'll file them up to 10 years."
Derrett says it's not uncommon to prepare seven or more years of tax returns for people. He says fear can keep people from filing taxes, and as the years accumulate their stress goes up.
"Being able to put the participants at ease with their tax situation is the most rewarding part, and even if they do owe some money I'm able to give them advice on how to deal with that," Derrett says.
"CRA is pretty understanding and will set up reasonable time payments for large amounts or small amounts."
He is happy to help people get benefits they often don't know they're entitled to, like the disability tax credit and the $360 carbon tax rebate all Canadians are eligible to receive, and files T1 adjustments to get people any benefits missing from past years.
He's even helped people who weren't receiving their Canada child tax benefit due to a bureaucratic mistake.
For his client Roland, eight years of tax returns completed in one morning meant $13,000.
"Right now if I need something, I just buy it," said Roland.
"It just makes life easier. Like, right now, probably next week...I gotta go look for a winter jacket."
Another of Derrett's clients experiencing homelessness was able to pay for six months of rent.
The Community Financial Helpline can be reached at 431-813-HELP (4357), toll free at 1-855-955-4234 or by messaging them on Facebook.
Sean Ledwich, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Leaf