Tax assistance expansion needs volunteers

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In the United Way world, we don’t have Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. We have campaign kick-off, weatherization, healthcare enrollment and tax assistance! In 2020, every one of our fall events made adjustments for social distancing. Some of those adjustments have actually become improvements. Free tax assistance is one that we believe will be greatly improved by becoming more virtual even as we expand the service from assistance for self-preparers to VITA – Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

VITA provides a much-needed service for struggling households. It saves tax preparer fees and is focused on helping these households take advantage of appropriate tax credits and deductions, and connecting them to other resources to build long-term financial stability.

In the past, we have struggled to recruit enough volunteers to meet demand. A small but dedicated crew has been instrumental in recent years as we provided assistance at local computer labs. These tax mentors, such as Guide retiree Dan Robertson, answer questions and assist people in accessing and completing their returns using the My Free Taxes free filing site. We found, however, that many people lacked the skills and experience to manage an online process.

We hope this new system encourages more people to volunteer and provides more support for the many people who need more assistance than we have offered in the past. Dan himself has been a VITA client. That’s why he decided to volunteer last year and is returning for the upcoming tax season. “I appreciate how VITA helped me.  You were in and out and they made it easy for people,” he said.

By partnering with United Way of Howard & Tipton Counties, we have a support system of experienced preparers to help new recruits, and we have developed a process for drop-off service that will allow volunteers to work from home or at our COVID-safe VITA center. In addition to tax preparer volunteers, we are recruiting for site coordinators, schedulers, reviewers and intake positions. 

In order to be ready for tax season, we need volunteers NOW. Online training is scheduled for January 6. This will be recorded for anyone that can’t attend the three-hour session on that day, but in order to serve, volunteers must complete the training.  For more information and to sign-up for the training, contact Georgeann Whitworth at 765-648-2172 or g.whitworth@unitedwaymadisonco.org.

Anderson University accounting students and faculty also provide VITA services, and our scheduler will continue to support this site; however, their slots have always filled quickly and unmet demand is high.  United Way of Howard & Tipton Counties has operated a robust VITA site for several years, partnering with IU Kokomo. Our sponsorship of the RSVP/AmeriCorps Seniors program connects another volunteer resource to this service.

And while we’re talking about taxes, remember to take advantage of the $300 above-the-line deduction this year by making that donation before midnight, December 31 at unitedwaymadisonco.org/give.

This has been a tough year. To those who continue to struggle, we hear you and want to help you through. To those of you who have stepped up to help, Thank You.  To all of you, remember this: #UnitedWeRise.

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