TALLAHASSEE, Fla., May 18, 2011 – Since 2005, United Way of the Big Bend’s (UWBB) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) service has helped residents save $2.5 million in tax-preparation fees and get back $17.9 million in tax refunds, which resulted in a $20.4-million economic impact on the Big Bend.
Through the work of VITA volunteers, these dollars stay in the pockets of the people who need them most.
“Reaching a milestone of this magnitude requires collaboration across all sectors – businesses, elected officials, nonprofits, the faith community, our schools, the media, our friends, and neighbors,” said Amanda Clements, UWBB vice-president of strategic initiatives. “Where else can you see the Internal Revenue Service, students from the Godby High School Academy of Finance, and members of AARP all working together toward a common goal?”
VITA, a part of UWBB’s BEST Project (Believe, Earn, Save, Thrive), offers free tax preparation and filing by IRS-certified volunteers at sites around the Big Bend from January through April annually. Volunteer tax preparers ensure that residents file for the tax credits they have earned, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit.
In 2011, more than 4,300 residents used VITA sites in Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Madison, Taylor, and Wakulla counties. Fueled by a grant from United Way Worldwide and Bank of America, filings at VITA sites were up 15 percent compared to the previous tax season.
“My students and I have learned so much about taxes and have loved applying that knowledge to help others by running a VITA site at our school,” said Cari Molinaro, Godby High School Academy of Finance teacher and VITA site coordinator. “We saw money going back into the pockets of hard-working families who got larger refunds because we helped them file for credits they didn’t even know they had earned. Participating in VITA allowed my students to feel like they were really doing something to make the community a better place. Plus, they’ve received valuable training that will benefit them in the future.”
One very tangible result is the $5.1 million in tax refunds to families in the Big Bend this tax season, Clements said. This money helps families pay down debt, boost savings and plan for the future. It’s money that percolates throughout the local economy.
“VITA is a crucial component to keeping our residents safe from financial predators,” said Ken Armstrong, UWBB president. “People and organizations from all across the community have come together through VITA to provide folks an alternative to high-priced tax preparers and costly, refund-anticipation loans. We are absolutely determined to help people keep the money they earn.”
Through the BEST Project, UWBB is leading an effort to help lower-to-modest-income residents preserve and increase their financial assets. The BEST Project, along with community partners, serves residents of the Big Bend through proactive and collaborative solutions to improve their long-term financial stability and quality of life. For details, visit www.theBESTproject.org.