THE BLOG

Congress, Invest in the Vital Power of VITA

03/24/2015 11:29 am ET | Updated May 24, 2015

As a married mother of one with another baby on the way, Melissa McPherson from Addison, New York, knows that raising a family can be expensive. That's why she watches her household spending and looks for ways to cut costs wherever she can.

And that's why over the past three years, Melissa and her husband have found enormous value in their local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) site, Southern Tier CA$H (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope). Through VITA, volunteers become IRS-certified tax preparers and provide qualifying individuals and families with free, accurate assistance in filing federal tax returns. Volunteer Income Tax Assistance helped the McPherson family access federal credits they were eligible for, like the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit; ensured that their filing was accurate; and saved them out-of-pocket fees that they couldn't afford.

Melissa isn't alone in discovering the power of community helping community through VITA. All around the country, tens of thousands of volunteers are providing free tax assistance at more than 9,300 tax sites across the United States. In fact, last year volunteers prepared 3.2 million returns, which resulted in more than $3.9 billion returning to local communities -- dollars spent to cover child expenses and transportation costs, pay bills, purchase groceries and save for the future. VITA is available to taxpayers earning $53,000 or less, persons with disabilities, the elderly and Native Americans, among others. Anyone can learn more and connect to tax assistance by calling 2-1-1 or visiting myfreetaxes.com.

As you might expect, demand for VITA continues to grow. Fortunately, Congress has a history of supporting this successful public-private partnership through the Community VITA grant program. With more than 380 United Ways across the country partnering with, sponsoring or investing in VITA, we can attest to the powerful return on investment of this partnership. We know that a relatively small boost in funding from Congress can go a long way in enabling more Americans to accurately meet their tax obligations while creating a pathway to financial stability and success.

That's why United Way, in partnership with CFED and hundreds of local and state organizations across 44 states, is calling on Congress to increase funding for the VITA grant program to $18 million in 2016.

You can amplify the message by joining us. Taking action is simple and will go a long way in ensuring that families like Melissa's can access VITA and the refundable credits that add to VITA's success.

Create opportunity for working families by contacting your members of Congress asking them to:

  1. Invest in VITA.
  2. Ensure that the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit, so pivotal to VITA's success, are protected and strengthened moving forward.

In many ways, VITA exemplifies the best of America -- the America where individuals come together to serve, share their talent and connect with their community. Public and private investment is a catalyst to enable this meaningful engagement that helps Americans fulfill their civic obligation while gaining financial stability. Support on both the public and private end ought to be strengthened because, ultimately, it takes all sectors working together to truly create opportunities for a better life for all.