By KAITLYN NAPLES
Over the course of the last four tax seasons, the United Way of West Central Connecticut, along with its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, has been able to bring $1.1 million in state and federal refunds back to individuals in the community it serves.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, known as VITA, provides low-income workers and families with free tax preparation and filing.
“The goal is to bring unclaimed tax credits to these individuals, and thus to the community,” said Colleen Bolingbroke, the United Way’s director of Marketing and Community Relations.
Last year, the VITA program helped 152 residents from Bristol, and 16 from Plainville. Nationwide, in 2012, Bolingbroke said tens of thousands of volunteers worked at nearly 6,000 VITA sites, who prepared more than 1.6 million tax returns.
The United Way of West Central Connecticut hosts the free tax preparation site for individuals who reside in the towns it covers— Bristol, Burlington, Plainville, Plymouth and Terryville— throughout the tax season.
Residents with a household income of less than $51,000 are eligible to have their taxes done at this local VITA site for free; all they have to do is make an appointment.
Those who are filing the income taxes and preparing tax returns are trained volunteers, typically 12 to 14 volunteers per year at the Bristol site, who must pass the Internal Revenue Services (IRS) exam.
Plainville resident Sue Bernier volunteered for the first time last year as a greeter and a screener with the VITA program, and said she has always volunteered in the schools while her children were young, and also during the United Way’s Day of Caring. When she saw that the United Way was looking for volunteers for the program last year, she decided to get involved, even though she didn’t know anything about the program at first. As a greeter, Bernier would be the first person residents needing their income tax prepared would see.
“I would let them in the building and have them fill out paperwork that is needed for the tax preparer,” Bernier said, adding that as a screener she would make sure the residents had all of the paperwork and documents needed for the tax preparer. “It would make the process move along more smoothly and efficiently.”
Bernier said she thinks the program is beneficial to those clients who qualify, especially since it is free so they aren’t losing out on tax return money by paying someone to file their taxes. As for volunteering, Bernier is a big advocate for being a volunteer, and said she would encourage anyone willing to give some of their time to volunteer for this program.
“It is a very beneficial program to our local community, and it’s nice to be able to give back,” she added.
In addition to bringing in $1.1 million in state and federal refunds back to individuals in the United Way’s communities, Bolingbroke said it has also saved clients over $115,000 in tax preparation fees alone.
“Plus, 100 percent of clients at last year’s site said they were satisfied with the services they received,” Bolingbroke said in an email, based on the results of an exit survey.
The VITA program also promotes the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is one of the largest antipoverty programs, Bolingbroke said, and “is a financial boost for working people in a recovering economy.”
For the third year in a row, there will also be a Connecticut EITC. Bolingbroke said last year, over 214,000 working families in the state benefitted from this tax credit.
To qualify for the federal and state EITC, earned income and adjusted gross income must be less than: $46,227 ($51,567 married filing jointly) with three or more qualifying children; $43,038 ($48,378 married filing jointly) with two or more qualifying children; $37,870 ($43,210 married filing jointly) with one qualifying child; $14,340 ($19,680 married filing jointly) with no qualifying children.
“The United Way of West Central Connecticut, serving the communities of Bristol, Burlington, Plainville and Plymouth, is working to create opportunities for a better life for all by focusing on education, income and health,” Bolingbroke said. “Under the building block of Income, this initiative strives to help families become financially stable and independent.”
The VITA program requires residents who would like to participate in having their income tax filed to make an appointment. To schedule an appointment, call (860) 612-3983 as soon as you receive all tax forms for 2013.
Anyone interested in volunteering should also contact Colleen at United Way at (860)582-9559 for more information. No experience is needed. Tax preparers assist low- to moderate-income wage earners in completing their federal and state tax returns using an online tax software program. Tax preparers receive free training and are certified by the IRS.
Volunteer requirements: Be willing to commit four hours per week during the tax season (hours are Tuesdays from 4 to 8 p.m. or Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.); must be comfortable working with diverse populations; no experience is necessary; all training is provided at no cost by United Way; bilingual volunteers are needed; and some positions require computer use.