By Jen Fletcher, 2017 Get It Back Campaign Intern
The start of the school year is a great time to get families involved in your EITC and VITA outreach programs. EITC and VITA outreach offer great volunteer opportunities and connect qualifying families with the tax credits they’ve earned. Studies show that students whose families receive the EITC perform better in school and are more likely to graduate than similarly situated peers, and that receiving the EITC does more than any other federal program to help lift children out of poverty. Connecting eligible families to the resources they need to file their taxes and make the most of their return gives students a leg up.
- Host a tax preparation site at a local school: In addition to having the space and (often) the technology needed to set up a VITA site, schools tend to be centrally located and easily accessible by foot or public transit. Families are already familiar with the location, and how to get there.
- Reach out to student groups: College or high school students are a great source of volunteers for VITA sites. Many clubs and student organizations are community service-oriented or have community service hours as a membership requirement. Certain schools even require community service to graduate. Some high schools build VITA into the curriculum. Helping low- and middle-income families prepare their taxes provides valuable experience for students, and gives them an ideal environment to practice their skills.
- Bring school administrators and staff on board: School staff are generally trusted by the community, and parents often pay attention to messages and materials received from their child’s school. Successful outreach programs in the past have enlisted staff members to distribute information on the EITC with report cards, newsletters, and lunch menus. School counselors, through the confidential nature of their work, are in a particularly good position to educate qualifying families about the credit.
- Contact your local parent-teacher group: Parent-teacher groups are great at bridging the gap between home and school life and bringing information about the EITC and your tax preparation site to parents. You can find your state’s Parent Teacher Association office here and a list of local units by city here. Just keep in mind that the PTA is a national association that requires membership dues from state and local affiliates. To save money, some schools have unaffiliated groups that can only be contacted at the local level.
- Provide resources to help with FAFSA applications and other programs that help students continue their education: Many families with high-school age students use their refund from the EITC and the CTC to help prepare for their child’s future education. Make sure your volunteer tax preparers are ready to help parents file for education tax credits for their children or themselves, and understand how Pell Grants and tax credits interact with one another so benefits aren’t left unclaimed. Your tax site can also promote or assist with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms. Check out our training and blog for more information.