By G. Michael Dobbs
SPRINGFIELD – For the 12th year low- to moderate-income families in Hampden County won’t have to pay for the preparation of their taxes thanks to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program sponsored by Springfield Partners for Community Action and the Valley Opportunity Council (VOC).
Paul Baily, executive director of Springfield Partners, said, “We’ve saved a lot of money for folks on tax preparation fees and brought millions of dollars [in refunds] back into the community.”
Baily made the remarks at the kick-off of the program at Jan. 31 in the room where several people were working with VITA volunteers on their tax returns.
More than 15,000 people have used the program so far locally.
Of particular interest is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which Elizabeth Skiba, a Stakeholder Partnerships, Education and Communication Tax Consultant for the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), said results in “hidden benefits” for those who qualify for it. According to the IRS, that four out of the five eligible workers do not claim the EITC.
She said that about one-third of the people who claim it on their taxes have never heard of the provision. She said the money the EITC will “support and sustain” millions of families.
Aaron Gornstein, undersecretary for the Massachusetts Department of Housing & Community Development, said the VITA program and emphasis on EITC fit into the “ladder of opportunity” the Commonwealth would like to offer working class families.
He noted, “Many poor families are working and many people don’t realize that.”
Although the backbone of the VITA are the volunteer tax preparers, Bailey pointed out the United Way of the Pioneer Valley provided a grant for a joint management position between the two agencies.
The program will run now through April 15. The returns are filed electronically so people will get their maximum refund in the minimal time.
The requirements to participate in the program include: one must be a resident of Massachusetts; the individual/family Income cannot exceed $50,000 annually; the participants cannot assist those who are self-employed or those who have rental income; and if income was earned from out of state employment or unemployment is received from out of state, the applicant will not qualify.
The Springfield Partners and VOC program is open to any resident of Massachusetts.
To make an appointment with the VOC, call 612-0120. The program is at the organization’s office on the second floor of 300 High St. Call 233-6500 to make an appointment at the office of Springfield Partners on the second floor of 721 State St.