By Jayanthi Ragubathi, 2017 Get It Back Campaign Intern
Filing taxes can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive. Even free tax preparation services can seem to take too much time for people who work long hours.
United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona was thinking about these barriers to accessibility when they decided to expand their virtual VITA model, Valet VITA. They now have both stand-alone and mobile Valet VITA sites. The mobile site brings VITA services directly to clients, instead of requiring taxpayers to travel to the stand-alone sites. United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona also offers in-person and facilitated self assistance VITA services at hybrid sites.
The Valet VITA model is a unique system that allows workers to scan their their tax documents and have them filed without waiting. At the site, volunteers conduct a thorough interview with clients, then scan and upload all necessary documents, including intake and consent forms. Volunteers then complete the tax preparation and quality review at the Valet Preparation Hub. Once finished, taxpayers can use DocuSign to securely review the completed return online and sign their taxes. Clients without internet access can pick up their taxes at the original location and sign consent forms for e-file.
The mobile sites further expand Valet VITA’s reach by traveling to different parts of Pima County. Local partners offer their locations as one-day “pop-up” events. United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona partners with Pima County, seven high schools, and three employers, for a total of 18 different mobile locations. In the past, they worked with the Refugee Resource Center, and will be continuing their partnership next tax season. Before each event, United Way and their partners advertise heavily to reach eligible residents. At the refugee center, they provide tax assistance in several languages, including Arabic, Farsi, Somali, and Nepalese.
In addition to bringing free tax services without the wait directly to clients, the mobile Valet VITA system provides volunteers more flexibility. Instead of committing to regular weekly shifts at a tax site, volunteers can choose from a variety of short shifts throughout the tax season.
The different types of intake sites create a range of options for busy workers to choose from. The valet model, in particular, allows United Way of Tucson and Southern Arizona to help more workers than they would holding regular tax preparation hours.