How the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is helping low-income taxpayers–and their communities–stay on their feet.
Tax season has begun, and that means hours of paperwork, or for many of us, means shelling out hundreds of dollars on e-filing or hiring a paid professional to do our taxes for us. However, for low income households, these alternatives are simply not an option, and because they have to go through the taxes themselves, many low income families miss the tax refunds, deductions, and Earned Income Credits that are meant to help families in need.
In 1971, Professor Gary Iskowitz at California State University Northridge found a solution that still remains a part of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to this day: the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Every year, the IRS pays community centers to organize a team of volunteers to assist households earning a combined annual income of $54,000 or less on their tax returns. Today, the program has grown to file 3.2 million returns annually since 1971, with the taxpayers receiving help from 92,000 volunteers annually.
Additionally, VITA’s benefits go far beyond saving the taxpayers money. Iskowitz’s original plan was to have his college students as the volunteers, and that concept largely remains to this day. Today, thousands of community college students volunteer not only to help taxpayers in need but to learn the skills necessary to file their own taxes when they graduate. Beyond helping college students get tax training, the IRS offers over $25 in grants for every volunteer hour at the site. This allows sites like our local anti-poverty center, the Southeastern Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) to provide the service at a lower expense, saving money for other services such as home repair. What could end up being the greatest benefit though is a revitalization of local economies. With a greater disposable income, participants in VITA will be able to buy more local goods and require less aid, improving everyone’s life, not just the participants.
Everyone can be part of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, and everyone should. But how do you join, either as a volunteer or a taxpayer? Volunteers will need to train for the program at www.linklearncertification.com. Volunteers age 18 or older can get basic or advanced certification for VITA through Link and Learn, but high school age students can get involved as well. VITA sites need greeters and screeners to handle intake forms; a local VITA site can walk you through the details. If you are an eligible taxpayer and want to join in, make sure you have your social security cards for your entire family as well as photo ID’s for the taxpayers, and schedule an appointment with SEVCA or another center at (802) 722-4575. …And don’t fret if you just missed the income requirement for VITA. If your income is $66,000 or less, you are still eligible for free e-filing on www.myfreetaxes.org.
This article is a culmination of research and volunteer experience. For more information on the volunteer experience, please find Ian Wallace in Ms. Steiner’s room during Homeroom.