With the help of volunteers and community partners, this tax season Valley of the Sun United Way assisted about 830 financially-strapped taxpayers in filing a total of 680 tax returns and claiming more than $1 million in tax refunds via eight Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites in the West Valley.
Available statewide during tax season and staffed by volunteers who are trained to IRS standards, VITA sites offer free tax preparation services to individuals and families with low or limited income, individuals with disabilities, senior citizens and military personnel and their families.
This year, VSUW spearheaded the expansion of VITA sites in the West Valley to close a critical gap in tax assistance services for West Valley residents, as identified by the IRS. Working with the IRS and local businesses, education providers and non-profit organizations, VSUW brought eight VITA sites to the West Valley, spanning Avondale, Buckeye, El Mirage, Gila Bend, Glendale and Goodyear. The community also rallied together to help their fellow neighbors by volunteering at these VITA sites. A total of 60 dedicated VITA volunteers altogether contributed 2,300 hours of their time to provide quality tax assistance services that made a difference in the lives of hundreds of families, young professionals, students and senior citizens.
Glendale resident Raul Manzolo has volunteered at the Estrella Mountain Community College VITA site in Avondale for the past two years, and he finds the experience extremely rewarding. "I enjoy helping people very much, and the best feeling is when we help a struggling family get a big tax return. The hope and gratitude I see on their faces makes me feel like I am really improving my community," said Mr. Manzolo.
In addition to offering free tax preparation, VITA sites also help families or individuals apply for the Earned Income Tax Credit, or EITC, which can put up to $5,751 into their pockets. EITC is available to low-to-moderate income workers, but they can only receive the credit if they file federal income tax returns and specifically claim the credit.
"This year we helped workers in the West Valley claim more than $470,000 in EITC credits they might not otherwise have known about," said Valley of the Sun United Way vice president of community impact, Charlie Boyce. "We're making sure working people get back the money they have already paid in and we're increasing their financial stability in the process," Boyce added.
Last year, more than half a million Arizonans received $1.2 billion in EITC credits and, nationwide, $59.5 billion was claimed - making EITC one of the nation's largest anti-poverty programs. Four of five eligible people claim and get their EITC in the U.S., and VSUW is working to raise that number to five out of five locally by connecting individuals to resources like VITA sites.
West Valley residents who are interested in volunteering for the 2013 VITA program may contact Judy DeMass with Valley of the Sun United Way at 602-631-4860 or email@example.com for information.
For other VSUW volunteer opportunities, visit www.vsuw.org/volunteer.