VITA Volunteers Provide Vital Service

VITA volunteersThey enter United Way Suncoast’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites burdened with concerns.

They exit with a sense of relief, and the anticipation that they will soon receive a tax return to help them deal with everyday expenses. And, it’s all courtesy of a volunteer force that brings genuine enthusiasm to a task most people would rather avoid.

“I actually like doing taxes and since most people don’t enjoy that at all, it makes me a little bit of an anomaly,” said VITA volunteer Debbie Douglas.

For these community members, VITA is vida. Led by volunteers like Debbie, the program is giving more life to people when they need it most, especially as they continue to grapple with the pandemic and all of its ancillary effects.

In 2022, the services provided by this UWS program have taken on greater importance. The Internal Revenue Service launched tax season on Jan. 24, 17 days earlier than 2021 because of the pandemic’s impact. The IRS encourages people expecting a return to file early, noting that a 2021 backlog and staffing shortages may create delays. Any community member who makes $74,000 or less can receive free tax preparation services from our program.

Our VITA volunteer staff, trained by IRS officials, can help people navigate the complexities. While people can file their own taxes with no assistance, our volunteers assure they receive the maximum refund, including the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Tax Credit. It is also important for taxpayers who received a COVID-19 relief Economic Impact Payment last year or who got an advance Child Tax Credit payment to make sure they report the correct amount on their tax returns.

United Way Suncoast is ready to help.

“It’s important to ease the fear and intimidation because they may not understand the whole process,” said VITA volunteer Betsy King. “We’re able to help them understand what to do and how to prepare for future years.”

Like Douglas, King thoroughly enjoys doing tax returns. She enjoys meeting new clients and reconnecting with those who return to her sites year after year.

“We get to know who they are and learn a little bit about them,” King said. “They like to see us also. I also appreciate being able to give back to the community something that not everybody can do. I can give time back that can benefit the entire community.”

Suncoast Snapshot - Betsy King
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Douglas echoed that sentiment, and noted that some of her clients have come to her with serious challenges.

“I’ve met some people with some very hard stories, very difficult stories,” Douglas said. “Being able to help them get a tax return that maybe they weren’t expecting or helping them know we do it for free creates a good feeling.

“These folks genuinely need help doing something I actually like doing. It’s the perfect marriage between people who need help and someone who loves to do something that most people don’t like to do at all.”

The broad work of United Way Suncoast and its partners in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Manatee, Sarasota and DeSoto counties produced some stellar numbers in 2021: VITA returned more than $9 million in refunds to the community, including $3.2 million in Earned Income Tax Credits and Child Tax Credits. We helped them save $1.8 million in preparation fees. That’s a total of $11 million coming back to the region to help families pay for housing, utilities, food and more.

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