Tonicia Green doesn’t dread tax season. She looks forward to being on the front lines, helping local hardworking families file their taxes and claim their refunds as a counselor at Santa Maria Community Services Financial Opportunity Center. The Center is one of the sites helping working families build financial stability through United Way’s Regional Volunteer Tax Assistance Collaborative.
Last year, more than 21,000 local families received more than $23 million in tax refunds through the initiative. Tonicia sees her clients getting more than just a refund – they’re also building confidence and financial management skills by using the MyFreeTaxes online program made available by United Way.
“We love using the MyFreeTaxes Software, sponsored by United Way, because it’s free, user-friendly and it empowers our clients. For “first timers” I sit beside the client and show them how to log in, and explain what all the tax forms mean. Then they are able to file their own taxes. It may take a while, but by the time they are finished, my clients say to me: ‘Wow! I didn’t know I could do that! I’m never paying someone $200 to do my taxes again, when I can do them myself!’ Clients feel so confident after doing their taxes that they will often go home and teach their kids or other friends and relatives how to file online.
“Most of our clients are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which can result in a large refund to the family. Families count on these refunds to pay for the basics, such as housing costs, utility bills, groceries and other family expenses.”
In addition to the volunteer collaborative, United Way recruits and trains volunteers for its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) sites. Once trained and certified by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), VITA volunteers prepare taxes for hard working local families at 33 community sites, including churches, schools and recreation centers. Last year, more than 700 volunteers helped local individuals and families file their income tax returns, receive refunds, and ensure they qualify and claim the EITC and other tax credits to which they’re entitled.
Collaborative partners include United Way, AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program, the Ohio Benefit Bank, and the IRS.
Both of these programs are important to local families working to make ends meet. As Congress considers tax reform in the coming months, it is critical that they hear from our communities how valuable these credits are for low-wage workers. The EITC is one of the most effective anti-poverty strategies in the country. It needs to be incorporated into any federal tax legislation that is considered and expanded to include low-wage workers between the ages of 21-24.
EITC Awareness Day is January 27. Would you like to help spread awareness for EITC? If you have five minutes to spare,use this template to send an email or call your member of Congress. Here is an EITC toolkit if you'd like to help spread the word!