Worcester Community Action Council (WCAC)today joined the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) and its colleagues throughout the community action network in kicking off this year’s tax season by launching the annual Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, celebrating 50 years of the program and the importance of accessing the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC).
“The VITA program is an essential program that helps connect low income working families to those who can help them navigate the tax process,” said MASSCAP’s Executive Director Joe Diamond. “VITA sites not only offer free tax prep by IRS Certified volunteers who help them access the EITC and other tax credits, but also access to savings programs and other critical services. The volunteers are the heart and soul of this work and we thank them for their service.”
WCAC Executive Director Marybeth Campbell noted that WCAC operates one of the largest VITA programs in Worcester, having completed more than 900 returns, generating more than $1.46 million dollars last tax season. “This is one of the most immediately impactful anti-poverty programs we operate,” she said. “Through VITA, our IRS-certified volunteers prepare taxes and specifically look for tax credits such as EITC, Child Tax Credit and others that the household may be eligible for maximizing their return. Utilizing the free tax preparation services allows families to retain their full refund, avoiding typical preparation fees which can often run into the hundreds of dollars.”
WCAC is part of the Worcester Free Tax Service Coalition which is marking its 18th year providing free tax preparation and asset building services to low income working taxpayers throughout Central Massachusetts. WCAC operates two VITA sites – one at its main office located in the Denholm Building, 484 Main Street, Worcester; and a second site at its Healthy Families of Southern Worcester County program, 61 Pine Street, Southbridge. The Southbridge VITA site is supported by a grant from the United Way of Southbridge, Sturbridge, Charlton and is staff primarily by volunteers from Cornerstone Bank.
New for 2020, WCAC has welcomed new volunteer coordinators at both of its sites. An online scheduling tool has also been implemented in order to maximize staff and volunteer capacity. Those interested in scheduling an appointment at either of WCAC’s VITA sites should visit www.WCAC.net/VITA to do so.
Additional VITA sites within Worcester include Main South CDC, 875 Main Street; Plumley Village, 16 Laurel Street; and at Worcester State University. Among the four Worcester Free Tax Service Coalition sites, a total of $3.59 million dollars in returns were generated for 2,120 clients last year.
There are approximately 80 VITA sites in total operating across the state, run by community action agencies and other community-based organizations and colleges. Together they serve more than 30,000 low income taxpayers, helping them to access over $60 million in tax refunds. VITA sites are supported by state resources added to the state budget for the first time last year. Together with an allocation from the IRS, VITA sites receive public resources that cover about one third of their operating costs.
The 2020 MASSCAP VITA program kickoff was held this morning in Cambridge at the Frisoli Youth Center. The MASSCAP VITA program supports 21 Community Action Agencies’ VITA sites. It is underwritten by state resources and a core three-year grant from the US Internal Revenue Service which represents 10 to 20 percent of the resources needed to support VITA sites. It is also supported in part by the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD). Community Action Agencies also work with local private and public funders to support their free tax preparation work.
The Earned Income Tax Credit has been called one of the most successful antipoverty programs. It bridges the wage gap – since the late 1970’s wages have not kept up with productivity and many working people have trouble meeting their basic needs. The EITC, along with other tax credits, has been shown to improve infant health outcomes, employment rates of single mothers, child educational achievement, and future earnings. January 31 is also national Earned Income Tax Awareness Day.
A further benefit of the VITA program is that those who qualify save over $4.5 million by not going to fee-for-service tax preparation sites. Volunteer tax preparers, many who already have professional tax and finance experience or are finance students from local colleges, are trained and certified by the IRS.
“Community Action Agencies throughout the Commonwealth and beyond have developed innovative services to help meet our clients’ needs,” said Birgitta Damon, MASSCAP President and Executive Director, Lynn Economic Opportunity (LEO). “The volunteer tax assistance program is just one way that we help individuals overcome the structural barriers that exist to move people out of poverty.”