Atlanta Prosperity Campaign
What kinds of work does Atlanta Prosperity Campaign do? How do you go about pursuing your mission?
The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign (APC) is a program of the Atlanta Community Food Bank (ACFB). The mission of the ACFB is to fight hunger by educating, empowering and engaging our community. The APC fits into this three-prong mission by educating working families about the economic supports to which they may be eligible and then connecting them to these programs.
To accomplish this, the APC has three core objectives:
1. Connect families and individuals to the various federal and state economic supports that are available, to help pull them out of poverty:
a. VITA Program. The APC coordinates the VITA Program for the 12-county metro Atlanta region, with an emphasis on connecting eligible households to available tax credits. We recruit and train 600+ volunteers and deploy them to 40 VITA sites. We provide equipment and technical support to help each site build its capacity.
b. Benefits Outreach Program. The APC provides mobile benefit screeners to go into the community to help households access economic supports, such as food stamps, Medicaid, TANF, childcare, etc. We also train community-based organizations to provide these screening and application services in-house.
2. Connect working families and individuals to other economic support programs in the community, such as homebuyer programs, credit counseling, financial literacy, job skills training, etc. We are a clearinghouse of information through our network of VITA and Benefits Outreach locations, and our program partners. Many of our VITA and benefit screening sites are located at community-based organizations that provide a wide-range of asset-building and life-skills programs. We focus on connecting the VITA clients with the other services offered at the host organization, as well as at other organizations in our network.
3. Lead the Metro Atlanta Asset-Building Coalition (MAAB). MAAB engages a wide range of community-based organizations, corporations, governmental agencies, colleges/universities and others that are concerned about financial stability for working families. Through this coalition, we are beginning to break down silos and create true public/private partnerships.
How and how long have you been involved with NCTC? Why are you involved?
The APC was created in 2007. We have been a member of the National Community Tax Coalition (NCTC) since that time. Membership in the NCTC provides a multitude of learning opportunities. Through the partnership, we have been able to glean new ideas from other NCTC members, as well as the conferences, to improve our program in Atlanta.
The APC staff participates in numerous NCTC activities. Carter Elliott, Manager of the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, was on the NCTC Steering Committee for two years and is currently co-chair of the Community Tax Prep Forum. He is also a member of the Data Collection Workgroup. He had presented at two NCTC conferences. Cicely Garrett, VITA Program Manager, is actively involved with the Quality Assurance, Schedule C and FAFSA Workgroups.
What kind of campaigns is Atlanta Prosperity Campaign working on or planning for next year?
For the near future, the APC has several initiatives it will continue to pursue:
1. Virtual VITA. We recognize that funding sources are becoming scarce. We believe that enhancing the Virtual VITA model will be a cost-effective way to expand our outreach.
2. Facilitated Self-Assistance (FSA). We currently partner with Intuit to offer the Freedom Free File program at numerous VITA sites and local colleges. We look to expand this program in the future, primarily at local colleges/universities.
3. Limited English Proficiency. Metro Atlanta has a huge Hispanic, Asian and immigrant population. We plan on connecting with media (newspapers and radio stations) that target these communities to promote our services.
4. Rural Outreach. Outside of metro Atlanta, Georgia is a very rural state, with 159 counties. Only 77 counties have actual VITA sites. The APC would like to work with the IRS and other statewide partners to focus on bringing VITA to the extreme rural parts of the state. This could be accomplished using the Virtual VITA model and possibly the FSA model.
What do you see as the biggest future challenge for your organization?
I view our most important long-term challenge to be “how can we change the behaviors of the clients we are trying to reach.” Too many of our targeted population have the “instant gratification” mentality of wanting their tax refund NOW, versus waiting a few days for their refund. And, as a result, they are paying big money to access their money. We all (the APC and its partners) need to do a better job of educating our target population (the working poor) about the consequences of using a commercial tax preparer, and to encourage them to use the free VITA services.
Are there any new projects you're excited about?
I think the Virtual VITA model has the chance to really expand VITA services throughout the rural communities of Georgia, which are the true under-served communities. In addition, although not a new project, the state of Georgia has an on-line food stamp application tool that greatly reduces the amount of time the recipient has to spend being processed for food stamps. Because of this, our Benefits Outreach team has been instrumental in increasing the number of food stamp recipients in the state.
What's the best part about your job?
I am constantly in the field, meeting with existing partners and potential new partner organizations, with the intent of educating the public about our programs. Because I am in the field so frequently, I have had the opportunity to learn a great deal about the various services in the community. As a result, I enjoy connecting community-based organizations to other providers of services that can complement their own activities. This, in turn, begins to break down the silos that exist in the non-profit community and in the for-profit community.
How did Atlanta Prosperity Campaign start? Has the mission/work changed much?
The APC was created in 2007, as a program of the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The Food Bank has been addressing hunger-related issues for over 30 years in metro Atlanta. The next logical step was to address poverty. How can we, the Food Bank, help put more money into the pockets of low-income families, so that they will be able to purchase quality food for their families?
According to the Brookings Institute, the two most powerful resources to pull a family out of poverty are the EITC and food stamps. The APC began as a way to combat a growing problem that the Food Bank had identified in its service area -- a large percentage of EITC-eligible taxpayers and food stamp-eligible households were not receiving the benefits. The Food Bank initiated the APC to educate and empower the public to claim these economic supports and to provide vehicles (VITA and Benefits Outreach) for households to easily access these economic supports.
With all that the APC is doing, the program remains committed to the central mission of the Food Bank. Educating and empowering the public, particularly on the importance of the EITC, food stamps, and other public supports, is the most important thing we can do to serve our clients. The APC is doing its part to help working families of metro Atlanta move toward financial stability.
To find out more about the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, check out its website at www.atlantaprosperity.org.