Free Tax Preparation Helps Low-Wage Workers Build Financial Stability, Boosts Local Economy
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) has officially begun and utilizes volunteers, certified by the IRS, to prepare income tax returns at no charge for working families who earned less than $57,000 in 2020. As expected, the season has started with COVID 19 guidelines in place and everyone following necessary safety measures, including plexiglass dividers, masks, and plenty of hand-sanitizer available.
“We want everyone to feel safe and protected as we work to serve our community people this tax season,” said Julie Dahlin, UWAYSCC VITA Coordinator. “Masks are required, and individual temperatures will be scanned upon arrival.”
Dahlin also noted that most of the appointments have been designated as virtual appointments. “Individuals will still need to bring required paperwork in person to appointments and wait for approximately 15 minutes for the volunteer intake process. This serves more people and many of our certified volunteers are able to stay safe at home while they process these returns, along with limiting long term exposure for people inside the facilities.” Making most of the tax appointments virtual expanded the number of appointments significantly. According to UWAYSCC staff, appointments are already booked through mid-March because of the community need.
VITA volunteers are IRS certified and trained, and ready to find as much return as possible. “Taxes can get complicated especially with the unemployment filing changes, refunds for charitable contributions, tax returns for seniors and educators can now even deduct expenses for COVID-19 protective classroom items,” states Dahlin.
Last year over 20 volunteers prepared and filed income taxes for more than 630 households, generating $774,874 in refunds. United Way of Southern Chautauqua County has been providing their VITA program since 2004. “This is an example of the value of United Way,” says Executive Director, Amy Rohler. “Every year, we invest around $7500 to operate this program, and the community gets over $750,000 in tax returns.” Added Rohler, “that’s a great return on investment.”
To schedule an appointment for free tax assistance, dial 2-1-1 or text your zip code to 898211. A service representative will then direct you to the appropriate location nearest you.