For better or worse, the Internal Revenue Service is not a popular government agency. But I bet you didn’t know this: the IRS is actively trying to find and help families claim the almost $65 billion in tax benefits that go unclaimed by low-income working families each year.
The IRS has declared that January 31 is EITC Awareness Day to help capture the attention of those eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit and motivate them to explore whether they qualify. The IRS also wants to lead them to no-cost options for getting help filing tax returns. The Partner's Outreach Toolkit has ideas and tools for getting the word out on January 31 and throughout the year.
United Way is a partner in this effort – and we need your help. United Way is seeking volunteers to help us connect these families with all the available income supports for which they are eligible. Through these efforts, families will be better positioned to move towards financial stability.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program offers free tax help to middle and low-income individuals and married couples. The program helps ensure financial stability by maximizing use of existing tax code benefits and incentives, such as the EITC, which one in four eligible families fail to claim each year. In addition to helping support families who may be struggling, the program helps bring more dollars into the local economy. Financial education and asset building programs can be integrated into a VITA site to reinforce good management of EITC and other tax refunds.
United Ways have launched their own VITA Programs and are also actively involved in recruiting, training and certifying VITA tax preparers using materials provided by the IRS. Currently more than 250 local United Ways provide opportunities for volunteers to be trained and certified to prepare basic tax returns in their community. For example, in 2013, volunteers with the VITA program run by United Way of Central Iowa prepared more than 4,600 returns, and the program run by United Way of Palm Beach County prepared nearly 9,000 returns. United Way of the Piedmont got some great visibility for its VITA program in this news clip and in this recent piece.
So many families could become more financially stable if they knew that United Way and, yes, even the IRS, can help them receive the benefits they are due. You don’t have to be a tax expert to help – there are all kinds of roles for volunteers with United Way VITA programs. Want to get involved? Contact your local United Way.