New Spending Proposal Could Increase VITA Funding by 40%
Yesterday, the House Appropriations Committee released the first draft of its fiscal year (FY) 2020 Financial Services and General Government (FSGG) spending bill, which covers funding for a number of federal agencies and programs, including the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
We’re thrilled to announce that, because of your advocacy around VITA, the House Appropriations Committee’s FSGG bill proposes $25 million in funding for the VITA program in FY 2020—an almost 40% increase over last year!
But we’re not done yet! VITA funding still has a long way to go—including a funding round with the Senate—before we land on a confirmed amount for FY 2020. As you know, our goal this year for VITA funding is to go from the current $18 million to a much-needed $30 million. (See below for why!)
That means we’ll need to continue working together to engage elected officials on both sides of Congress and ask them to fund VITA at $30 million in FY 2020.
How VITA Supports Working Families
VITA is a community-based program that has provided free tax preparation services to lower-income Americans since 1969. Fundamentally, VITA supports those who cannot afford the fees for professional tax services but need assistance to accurately complete their tax return.
There are VITA sites in every state across the country—more than 3,700 in total—that prepared over 1.4 million tax returns this year with a 98% accuracy rate. These sites generated over $1.8 billion in refunds to assist households earning an average of $26,000 in annual income.
One of the key components of the VITA program is to connect eligible low-income households to critical tax credits like the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Child Tax Credit (CTC). Throughout the tax filing season, tens of thousands of IRS-certified volunteers assist persons of limited means, those with disabilities, and those with limited English proficiency in accurately fulfilling their tax obligations as well as ensuring that workers can keep the full amount of any refund for which they are eligible.
Refunds received at tax time can make up as much as 30% of a low-income family’s annual income, but the value of this refund is eroded by costly preparation fees (at an average of $273 per tax return) and potentially predatory tax time financial products. Since VITA is free, this problem is avoided, and families are able to spend more of their refund on the things that matter: childcare expenses, transportation costs, bills, household necessities, debt repayment and savings.
VITA sites also help low- and moderate-income tax filers overcome many challenges at tax time. These include the recent partial government shutdown, filing under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and the annual delays in processing EITC tax refunds due to the PATH Act. These changes in how tax refunds are delivered can ripple through the entire financial lives of working families and make the need for free tax preparation services even greater.
VITA sites provide more than just tax preparation; many VITA sites are hubs of financial capability services for low- and moderate-income families including credit counseling, housing counseling and public benefit screenings. Funding constraints limit VITA sites’ ability to serve more working families in their communities.
Why VITA Needs More Funding
Increasing federal funding from $18 million to $30 million annually would help VITA programs to increase capacity and extend free tax preparation services to hundreds of thousands of more low-income households. With the new tax law and continued funding and service constraints at the IRS, VITA played a key role in helping low-income tax filers successfully weather a difficult tax season and access the refunds they depend on to improve their household financial well-being. The program is the model of an effective public private partnership and has maximized the existing appropriation.
Please take a moment to call your member of congress and ask them to fund VITA at $30 million in FY 2020. If your representative sits on the House Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, make sure to thank them for their support of VITA.
With your continued support and advocacy, we can take VITA from $18 million to $30 million in its 50th year!