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Idahoans ‘leaving millions on table’ by not taking tax credit, United Way leader says

Nora Carpenter, executive director of United Way of the Treasure Valley, is shown at the organization’s Boise office, where the staff keeps a stock of items for people in need. United Way recently released its 2017 Community Assessment that looks at the challenges Idahoans are facing in the current climate.
Nora Carpenter, executive director of United Way of the Treasure Valley, is shown at the organization’s Boise office, where the staff keeps a stock of items for people in need. United Way recently released its 2017 Community Assessment that looks at the challenges Idahoans are facing in the current climate.

The United Way of Treasure Valley’s just-released 2017 Community Assessment looks at the lives of Idahoans on three fronts: financial stability, health and education.

The assessment, taken every three years, guides the organization’s fundraising, volunteer and advocacy efforts by focusing the areas of greatest need. Among the greatest current challenges: a lack of affordable housing, liveable wages, school readiness and public transportation.

While some fixes, like increasing affordable housing, will take time, others are what Nora Carpenter, executive director of the United Way of Treasure Valley, called “low-hanging fruit.”

One example is the Earned Income Tax Credit geared toward middle- and low-income working people. About 40 percent of Idahoans are eligible to claim the credit, which could return as much as $2,500 to their households. But only one in five eligible Idahoans claims the credit, Carpenter said at a United Way presentation Tuesday.

“We’re leaving millions on the table,” she said. And this is at a time when, according to the United Way’s related ALICE (or “Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed”) report on the lives of the working poor, about a third of Idahoans struggle to pay basic bills.

Carpenter is calling for community groups to work together to get the word out about this lost opportunity.

Another problem, said Carpenter, is that many of our public policies date to the 20th century and are now out-of-date. One example: the creation of a half-day, rather than full-day kindergarten program. A half-day program might have worked in an earlier generation when it was more common for only one parent to work outside the home. Now, with two working adults in most families, a half-day kindergarten poses challenges for transportation and child care.

The new Community Assessment report found that nearly half of Treasure Valley children entering kindergarten are not prepared to learn to read. The United Way is advocating for more funding for pre-K programs.

The assessment also looked at mental health and found that 20 percent of the students in the Treasure Valley have considered suicide. The United Way was among the partners that helped found the Idaho Suicide Prevention Hotline. The hotline has also received support from local hospitals and the Idaho Legislature. Suicide remains the second leading cause of death for Idaho teens (after accidents).

The assessment also noted that transportation is a challenge for families who must be able to afford a car, as well as gas, to get themselves to work and their children to school and to daycare — if they’re able to afford it.

Carpenter called for a better integration between community members in need and available community resources.

She noted several bright spots, including Southwest District Health’s partnership with school districts to create a mobile program in Canyon County to bring dental check-ups, immunizations and other services to families at local schools.

More facts about the lives of Idahoans from the 2017 assessment:

▪  Across the Treasure Valley, housing and transportation costs often add up to more than 50 percent of household income for a typical household. In households with an income closer to the regional median, that number rises to around 65 percent or higher in Ada, Canyon and Gem Counties.

▪  26 percent of Idaho high school students in 2015 were overweight or obese.

▪  Over time, the percentages of Treasure Valley third graders reading at grade level have not improved a lot.

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