As the COVID-19 pandemic swept into our communities during the middle of tax season, Granite United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program had to work quickly to develop another option for the thousands of low to moderate income households that rely on their services.
“One of our single largest initiatives is the free tax preparation we provide,” said Patrick Tufts, President and CEO of Granite United Way. ”This program helps over 5,000 individuals and families each year, and brings more than $5 million back in federal refunds. We knew we needed to keep this option available.”
The VITA team got to work immediately.
“The first thing we did was ensure the safety of all of our volunteers and VITA clients,” said Cary Gladstone, Senior Director of Asset Building for Granite United Way. “Our next step was to begin working with the Internal Revenue Service and work on creating a ‘virtual’ option that would still offer this critical service while adhering to all of the requirements from the federal government.”
When the tax filing deadline was moved to July 15, 2020 it gave the VITA team an opportunity to continue their services safely.
Virtual VITA is available now to households making up to $66,000 annually. Those interested can simply call 211. They will be connected to one of the virtual VITA team members and they can begin their tax preparation and claim the Economic Impact Payment that provides most adults with $1200 as well as $500 for each dependent child under age 17.
The program allows taxpayer to have their returns prepared safely, accurately and remotely. There is no in-person contact, instead the team is utilizing email, phone and electronic platforms. All tax documents are secured through encryption and confidentiality is maintained.
“With so many individuals facing unemployment for the first time as a result of furloughs, it’s essential that we keep this program available to them. Items like stimulus funds and the Earned Income Tax Credit can mean a lot to a family struggling through this difficult time,” said Gladstone.
Support for this virtual program includes funding from the NH Charitable Foundation.This will allow VITA operations to obtain tracking software and equipment that\ will ensure secure and accurate return preparation. Citizens Bank continues to offer annual support for the VITA Program at Granite United Way.