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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Free tax program yields results

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

With the arrival today of the federal tax deadline, the United Way of Henry County and Martinsville HOPE Coalition is finishing another year of free tax preparation for Martinsville & Henry County residents.

The 65 trained Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers worked more than 2,500 hours preparing tax returns and so far this year have filed 1,262 federal tax returns at no cost to clients,, according to a United Way news release.

That has saved clients in Henry County and Martinsville around $231,600, the release added.

The program serves families with an adjusted gross income of $51,000 or less.

The success of the VITA program is measured primarily through three key areas: the number of returns prepared, the costs saved by clients, and the commitment of volunteers and community partners to provide the free tax service each year.

In Virginia, 26 other coalitions are members of the Virginia Community Action Partnership, which offers funding to increase the efforts of financial literacy initiatives and free tax preparation for communities in need.

More than $30 million in tax refunds had been secured this year as of March 31, and the Martinsville-Henry County VITA program is responsible for securing $1.6 million of that, the release said. Last year, the HOPE coalition produced the second highest amount of tax returns, second only to Northern Virginia.

The program depends on volunteers, some of whom work 40 hours a week to prepare income tax returns during tax season. Each volunteer attends a two-day training session to receive certification through the IRS Link and Learn tax preparation course and is certified to prepare many types of tax returns.

Throughout tax season, the volunteers get together to discuss changes, successes, challenges and ways to improve the program. They also help each other with complicated issues.

Despite a new location on Liberty Street and many snow days, the VITA program has continued to be successful, the release stated. Kay Owens was hired as the VITA program coordinator, taking care of administrative needs, volunteer scheduling, training and appointments. Her previous experience included management and organizational development.

After tax season, the relationships that are made continue through the year. Volunteers hear many success stories throughout the season of people who use their tax refund to pay off debts, buy a car, pay for college or open a savings account, according to the release.

Clients’ stories

VITA clients have many success stories each year, which are used in applications to request funding to continue preparing taxes for free each year.

Rachel Young shared one experience.

“My story concerns a former local teacher, who has been battling cancer since the first year we have been doing taxes at the mall. She had continued to teach and after using all her sick days and short term disability, last year she was put on Long Term Disability and Social Security Disability. Her husband had divorced her not long after her diagnosis and she has been a single mom of two children. Her son graduated high school a couple of years ago and she put him through tech school for auto body work. Her daughter graduated last spring and has been attending college.

“Her w-2 from the school board was filled out incorrectly. The school board was not aware that the taxable part of her LTD should have been reported in box 1 of her w-2. I saw the problem and had them send her a corrected w-2, which resulted in a refund of over $1,700,” Young said. “Had I not had the training that I had, I would not have known that the taxable part of her LTD was considered wages until she reached the normal retirement age for the school system and thus was considered earned income for EIC calculation. Since her income had been severely cut in the past year, this $1,700 was a godsend.”

Amie Nguyen volunteered during the BB&T Bank Bus event. “I think it was really cool to be on the bus and got all the technology available to prepare taxes,” she said.

Glen Vaughn, another long-time VITA volunteer, worked every Friday and Saturday at the walk-in site. She told of a retired couple who came in to have their taxes done. They had been having their taxes filed at a paid site in the past and this year they could not afford the fees, so they went to VITA.

Vaughn secured more than $5,000 for the couple and encouraged them to let her amend their previous years’ returns. As a result, they received more money back on 2011 and 2010 tax returns, the release said.

In addition to tax preparation, VITA volunteers have helped area residents fill out FAFSA forms for student financial aid and sign up for health insurance on Healthcare.gov.

The VITA program has five sites in the area, including New College Institute, the Martinsville Commissioner of the Revenue’s Office, Stanleytown United Methodist Church, Grace Network and a walk-in site on Liberty Street beside Lester Home Center.

To find out more about being part of the VITA program or having taxes prepared for free, contact Joanie Davis, community initiatives director, United Way of Henry County and Martinsville, P.O. Box 951, Martinsville, Va. 24114; call 403-5964; or email jdavis@unitedwayofhcm.org.

 

 
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