By Tim Solanki, 2022 Get It Back Campaign Intern
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress passed several relief measures to support Americans, including three stimulus checks, an expanded Child Tax Credit (CTC), and an expanded Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). To access these crucial benefits, folks need to file a tax return. Unfortunately, this left out many low-income Americans who normally don’t file taxes.
Luckily, Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) is an IRS-sponsored, free tax-filing program across the country that helps people with low incomes file their taxes. For this year’s VITA Awareness Day (March 16), we wanted to highlight some VITA programs that have continuously done great work for communities and families with low-to-moderate incomes. Beyond helping taxpayers file and claim their tax refunds, these organizations have helped their clients access vital COVID-19 pandemic relief, engaged in creative and unique outreach strategies, and continued to provide high-quality financial services.
City of Philadelphia
The City of Philadelphia created a large city-wide coalition to engage in Child Tax Credit outreach in 2021. They partnered with two VITA organizations, the Campaign for Working Families and CEIBA. As a part of their CTC and VITA outreach, they engaged in several unique strategies, including doing door-to-door tax outreach while offering free COVID-19 vaccines.
The city of Philadelphia took a targeted approach in their outreach. They used social service data and Treasury zip code data to target kids in the lowest income households. They found 64,000 children where their families are enrolled in TANF-related Medicaid or used emergency shelter services since the beginning of 2000 and used those phone numbers and addresses to conduct extensive outreach.
CASA Maryland helps immigrant families and individuals advocate for their rights by providing services to those in need. One of the services CASA offers is financial education and free tax filing services to those in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania.
CASA prioritizes working with those filing with Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs). In Maryland and Virginia, more than 100 taxpayers they served applied for and obtained an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for the first time, clearing the way for them to apply for a driver’s license.
United Way Bay Area
Free Tax Help Bay Area, run by United Way Bay Area (UWBA), provides three types of filing options: in-person tax preparation and drop off, online tax preparation, and DIY taxes online. The program manages the EarnItKeepItSaveit.org site which provides info on more than 100 area VITA sites, a foreign students’ tax guide, and training resources for VITA site coordinators and trainers. tax guide. In addition, UWBA offers Greater Bay Area and Central Coast Wildfire Relief Funds to help residents with immediate and long-term assistance recovery due to California wildfires.
Poverty Solutions at University of Michigan
Community Initiatives at Poverty Solutions at the University of Michigan is a university-wide presidential initiative at the University of Michigan that partners with communities and policymakers to find new ways to prevent and alleviate poverty through action-based research. In 2021, they formed a coalition of organizations to create Detroit’s 2021 Child Tax Credit Campaign.
To target their outreach, the coalition used census data to track where households in poverty with young children are located and focused their canvassing and outreach efforts in these areas.
CASH Campaign of Maryland (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope)
CASH Campaign of Maryland is an organization that promotes the economic advancement of low-to-moderate income families and people in Maryland.
In addition to providing free tax filing services, CASH has special initiatives like the Bmore CoLab, a collaboration of four non-profit organizations that provide services to individuals and future entrepreneurs looking to start their own businesses. They help create a business plan, connect with mentors, and access capital to empower entrepreneurship in Baltimore, Maryland.
Thanks to ALL the phenomenal VITA programs that help connect people with crucial benefits. To help celebrate VITA Awareness Day, you can use Prosperity Now’s VITA Awareness Day Toolkit to get the word out on social media and share your VITA stories.