Hope4Healing’s 2021 VITA Program
Written by Nicole Sanders
During the last several months, attention at Hope4Healing has turned to its involvement in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program as they began their third year of tax preparation. A joint venture of Hope4Healing, Hawkeye Community College, the Internal Revenue Service, and Iowa State University Extension, this VITA site provides free help understanding and filing taxes to low-come individuals families and workers. It is an essential service for people who would otherwise not be able to fully access the tax benefits that they are due, and many that have utilized this service are immigrants. For them, Hope4Healing has focused on overcoming language and cultural barriers that make it difficult for these families and workers to navigate the increasingly complex tax system. It is a valuable service for many members of the community.
The challenges have been many. Hope4Healing recruited volunteers who were willing to volunteer their time, then the VITA volunteers had the sometimes-arduous task of understanding the updated tax code. It was necessary for them to pass a test to ensure that they were able to adequately prepare the taxes in light of all of the changes to the tax code within the last year. Hope4Healing’s staff dedicated many volunteer hours to make the program a reality.
The people that the VITA program is reaching are vulnerable. Many are immigrants who have limited English skills and come from countries that do not have the complex tax structures that we have here in America. This means that navigating the system is extremely difficult for them. Hope4Healing’s VITA program ensures that individuals with linguistic and cultural barriers are not taken advantage of, providing safe space for low-income individuals and families where they can be assured that they will receive tax benefits that they are due. This means that low-income workers will not pay more than they owe, and for many provides a desperately needed income through tax returns. In many instances, the VITA tax program also helped keep families from fraudulently being taken advantage of as has been the case of families not understanding that they could receive a refund from both the State and Federal Return. By providing tax assistance in the native languages, families feel more comfortable and better understand what materials are needed to prep their returns and also how the filing program works. As the nation faces Covid, tax assistance has become even more important to low-income families as many of them can qualify for the EITC tax credit, and families and communities are helped in the long run
Coordinating the VITA Program has been a lot of hard work, but VITA is a win-win as both the students and the low-income workers have benefitted from the program. And, through VITA, the whole community has won as well for when individuals and families are able to claim all their tax credits, it is a real boost to the local economy.