Tax day is around the corner. For many of us, a yearly visit to a CPA is essential in order to file--and an expense that we can afford. But, many low-income community members, like ag and hospitality workers, seniors or people with disabilities, can't afford to pay for private tax help. For them, filing a tax return can be even more daunting.
Enter the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
VITA Clinics are a partnership between the IRS and community-based organizations, like Family Resource Centers (FRCs), to make tax preparation services available to and easy for those who can't afford private assistance. FRCs are ideal partners since they are a trusted place for many low-income families, which is important with sensitive topics like household finances.
The VITA program offers free tax preparation services by trained volunteers, and targets households with low incomes, or anyone with annual earnings of less than $54,000. Services are offered in both English and Spanish.
FRCs recruit the volunteers, who are often highly-qualified to be trained in tax form preparation--think accountants, bankers or financial advisors. Then, the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board step in and train the volunteers to complete the forms, and help low-income families apply for qualified deductions, including those that frequently get overlooked, like the Earned Income Tax Credit. FRCs advertise VITA Clinics in their neighborhoods and handle logistics.
Last year, more than 1,300 low-income families participated in local VITA Clinics, which brought back more than $2 million in refunds to these households--and into the community.
A refund can make a huge financial impact for families with young children, in which parents may work multiple jobs, or work and also attend school. As little as a few hundred to as much as a few thousand dollars extra often allows a struggling household to catch up on bills, or seed a savings account for the first time.
VITA Clinics also are a way for low-income families that wouldn't walk into an FRC absent free tax preparation to meet the FRC staff and learn about other support services. For instance, after completing a client's tax forms, a VITA volunteer and FRC staff might help the client set savings goals, open bank accounts, or discuss citizenship classes or parenting workshops.
FRCs' self-sufficiency services for low-income families don't stop on April 18. These nonprofits help their clients build financial skills year-round with: one-on-one financial coaching; debt-reduction workshops; employment services; opening bank accounts; and, classes on how to save for kids' college.
This month's edition of Community Link highlights three nonprofits' VITA Clinic programs. In 2016, their combined VITA efforts will reach 1,100 families living in Napa County. All programs have been vetted by Community Foundation staff.
If you'd like to support any of them, you can recommend a grant by logging into your DonorCentral account from the homepage on our website
. Or, you can fax us a completed grant recommendation form at 254.7955.
Julia DeNatale & Marla Tofle
Philanthropic Services Staff