I recently learned about high school students who are volunteering to help prepare tax returns for people who are low-income, elderly, disabled or speak limited English. While many United Ways offer the opportunity for adults to participate in Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs, I am especially inspired by these students and want to share their story to promote EITC Awareness Day.
But first, some background. The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is a refundable tax credit for low to moderate income working individuals and couples, particularly those with children. Four out of five taxpayers claim the credit, but United Way is working to help all families receive what they are due. In addition to being a financial boost for working people, the EITC boosts local economies. Research has shown that the EITC encourages work, reduces poverty and leads to long-term gains in child health and academic success.
While it is important to protect this tax credit and increase awareness about it, volunteering to help people take advantage of EITC by assisting them with their tax returns is a great way to create opportunity for working families. Your local United Way may lead a VITA program or can connect you to one. United Way of Palm Beach County, for example, manages 18 VITA sites during tax season.
Now, back to those high school students. For nine years, juniors and seniors from Catholic Central High School in Troy, NY join hundreds of adults each year as volunteer tax preparers through the CA$H Coalition of United Way of the Greater Capital Region’s VITA program. The students are impressive! They’ve mastered the tax material and I’m told they handle clients with tremendous professionalism. Occasionally some of the tax clients are skeptical when a student begins assisting them, but the students are able to establish their credibility quickly. And if there’s ever a question they can’t answer, there are adults nearby to help. United Way of the Greater Capital Region expects between 15 and 20 students to participate one day a week for 12 weeks this year.
United Ways can almost always use more volunteer tax preparers, greeters and others who help staff the tax preparation sites during tax season. I hope you’ll consider joining us this tax season, and learn about United Way’s other initiatives to help individuals and families achieve greater financial stability year-round.