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Write-off aims to help military families in need

Missouri is the 19th state with such a program.
Monday, April 3, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:22 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Military families facing financial hardships will have a new benefactor this year — charitable Missouri taxpayers.

Taxpayers can donate part or all of their tax returns to a state trust fund, allowing the money to be classified as a charitable donation and, therefore, a tax write-off. This year, Missouri’s military families will benefit.

The Missouri Military Family Relief Fund, which was signed into law on June 28, 2005, will use taxpayer money to assist eligible members and families of the Missouri Resident Guard and Reserve who have been deployed after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The fund will help families pay for essentials such as medical assistance, home repair and child care.

“There are hardships in many areas,” said Sgt. 1st Class Melissa Ireland, of the Missouri National Guard and the fund coordinator. “Sometimes the financial hardships just happen. This gives them another avenue so that (military members) can stay focused on their mission and know that their family is taken care of.”

Missouri became the 19th state to do so. Illinois, the first state to enact a military family relief fund, has distributed $3.58 million to 7,000 members of the Illinois National Guard and Reserve since 2003.

As of March 20, the Missouri Department of Revenue estimated that the relief fund has received $2,500 in donations from the 1.5 million state tax returns received, approximately half of the total returns it expects.

The tax check-off donations contribute to the $42,800 in donations that the fund has received since August 2005 from individuals, businesses and fundraising events.

“It lets them know that the state as a whole appreciates what they are sacrificing for all of us,” Ireland said.

To ensure that as many people are offered assistance as possible, Maj. Gen. King Sidwell, the adjutant general of the Missouri National Guard, will distribute grants of as much as $1,000 per family from the fund, based on the recommendations of a review panel consisting of a command sergeant major of the Missouri National Guard, a command sergeant major of a Reserve component, as well as a representative of the Missouri Veterans Commission.

Under the current draft, applicants must meet certain rank and order requirements. Families will be ineligible if a previous grant from the fund has been received in the last 12 months. Applicants whose needs exceed $1,000 or families who need funds in less than a week will be redirected to the Missouri Veterans Commission. Depending on the circumstances, the adjutant general and panel can waive the rank qualifications and provide grants to families who have received a grant within the last 12 months.

Applications are available upon request through the Missouri Military Family Relief Fund’s Web site or by contacting Ireland.

Besides the Military Family Relief Fund, a second new fund — the Childhood Lead Testing Fund — has been added as a tax write-off option.

The Childhood Lead Testing Fund supports blood lead tests for uninsured children, educational materials and programs, analysis of blood test reports and individual case management. Activities supported by this fund ensure that children at risk for lead poisoning are tested and receive appropriate follow-up activities to protect their health and well-being from the harmful effects of lead.

“It gives everyone the opportunity to be involved in the lead issue that exists,” said Susan Thomas of the Missouri Department of Health. “Everyone can feel like they make a difference in helping out the health of the children in Missouri.”

The deadline for state income tax returns is April 15.

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