news & events

What is VITA?

There are a lot of us exhibiting some pretty negative emotions these days towards our federal government, and as April 15th approaches a lot of that sentiment will inevitably turn towards our buddies at the Internal Revenue Service. And let's face it, some of those feelings are warranted, no doubt.

But I'd like to talk about an IRS program that many people may not even know about. It's one of the most successful community volunteer initiatives ever, in terms of return on investment (for you bottom-line types) and the 'warm fuzzies' (for those of you who like puppies and kittens). It's called the Community Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, or VITA. It started back in 1969 (like myself) with the Tax Reform Act (not like myself).

From very modest beginnings, VITA has grown to over 4,500 free tax sites nationwide (including 17 right here in King County). In 2009, those 4,500 sites utilized the services of over 43,000 certified volunteers to prepare 1.2 million federal tax returns-a growth rate of 155% over 5 years!

But that's just part of the success story. The average VITA client earns about $18,800 a year before taxes (2008). And here are some amazing numbers for 2009:

  • Total federal refunds returned to VITA clients: $1.4 billion.
  • 355,000 VITA clients claimed the Earned Income Tax Credit.
  • The average EITC was $1,465. And the total EITC return amount exceeded $520 million.
  • Each EITC dollar brought back into a community generates approximately $1.58 in local economic activity.

And because of VITA programs in local communities, 100% of those dollars go into VITA clients' pockets, bank accounts, and/or savings opportunities like bonds, instead of towards fees for paid tax preparers.

So why am I telling you all of this? Because despite the tremendous success of this program and the demonstrated impact that it has had on communities across this country, there was never a dime of federal funding to support it until 2008. That's when Congress approved an $8 million competitive matching grant initiative for local VITA programs. It was increased to $12 million for 2010. But now the administration is recommending it be decreased back to $8 million for FY 2011, meaning all of the work done to expand VITA programs to reach more families over the past 3 years would be severely impacted when we start doing taxes in 2012.

VITA is exactly the type of federal program that should be kept intact during times of economic turmoil. The numbers literally speak for themselves. If you agree, there are two things I'd like you do:

  • The decision about funding for the VITA Grant Program for 2012 will be made in Congress over the next several months. Contact your representative, and tell them that now is NOT the time to cut back on programs that put money back into people's pockets! Don't know who your rep is? Click here.
  • Add your name to this state-by-state petition drive to not only keep funding for the VITA Grant Program intact, but to increase it. For Washington, click here.


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