“It’s tax season and we’re here to assist you” is Empower Yolo’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program team motto. Beginning in the winter prior to tax season Empower Yolo begins assembling its VITA team and training volunteers to support community members with filing federal and state taxes during tax season.
Empower Yolo partners with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) VITA program to bring this needed service to our community. The VITA program at Empower Yolo offers free tax help to people who generally make $60,000 or less, persons with disabilities, and limited English speaking taxpayers who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns. IRS-certified volunteers provide free basic income tax return preparation with electronic filing for qualified individuals.
“The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program is important because clients need a trusted source to get their income tax returns prepared; and at the same time they have the opportunity to get educated about the importance of filing taxes and making payment agreements if they owe the IRS, instead of ignoring the debt and later finding out that they owe way more,” says Program Director Josie Enriquez. “VITA volunteers also use the opportunity to do financial education,” she says.
The VITA program started about 15 years ago. It was one of the first assignments Enriquez was given when she was hired at the Yolo Family Resource Center (YFRC), which merged with Empower Yolo in 2016. The Department of Employment and Social Services, (now Health and Human Services) invited YFRC to join them in providing this service. In the first year of the program, Enriquez only did a few tax returns.
“I manage the program because I know that all the tax reimbursements increase Yolo County’s economy,” Enriquez says. “I also do it because it makes me feel happy when a taxpayer gets a huge tax reimbursement, or when they get a very small reimbursement because I know that they are least going to have money to buy food,” Enriquez adds.
Empower Yolo’s VITA program has since grown and is currently supported by 31 volunteers, of which 25 are Empower Yolo staff that support clients and community members. The youngest volunteer is 15 years old, which helps Empower Yolo begin to educate youths on finances and financial responsibilities.
“I enjoy helping people file taxes because it is rewarding when they receive refunds,” says Elizabeth Torres, VITA program volunteer at Empower Yolo. “This program allows us to assist low-income recipients who depend on every cent to survive,” Torres says.
Empower Yolo’s VITA program has proven success. From 2014-2017, VITA volunteers have prepared over 1,770 returns in Yolo County. In addition, they have brought in over $3.2 million in refunds and have saved over $531,000 in tax preparation fees.
In 2018, Empower Yolo’s VITA team assisted 510 community members file tax returns to receive $1,032,532.00 in federal refunds and $121,140.00 in state refunds.
We are grateful to our funders for helping us provide this service to the community. The Yolo County Board of Supervisors provided funding for the VITA program this year. Travis Credit Union, United Way Sacramento and Woodland are also supporting Empower Yolo’s VITA Program.
The community can support this program by making an online donation any time at empoweryolo.org, or help with program supplies such as printer ink, copy paper or gift cards to office supply stores which can be donated at the main office in Woodland.
Eligibility for assistance is for anyone in the community with an income of $60,000 or less in 2018.
If you or someone you know meets the income requirements and could use assistance preparing their tax return, we hope you will take full advantage of this opportunity at no cost. For questions or to schedule an appointment contact the main office at 530-661-6336.
What to bring to your appointment – your VITA volunteer will need the following tax-related items to prepare your basic tax return:
- Valid driver license or photo I.D.
- All W-2 forms for 2018
- Savings and checking account and routing numbers for direct deposit
- Your household health coverage information (1095-A, 1095-B or 1095-C)
- ITIN or Social Security Number
The tax process can feel complicated or overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Empower Yolo’s VITA team is available for this free service and are working hard to assist community members through this process.
“It is important for me to continue the VITA program because now we have many taxpayers who trust us and need our services. In addition, when they come, it gives us the opportunity to find out if they have other needs, such as food, clothing, housing, counseling, education, health insurance, and we do everything we can to help them,” Enriquez said.