The Strength of Our VITA Community

In June, we learned that the latest House appropriations bill cut funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program by 50%. In 2017, the VITA program helped 1.4 million low-income taxpayers—single parents, people with disabilities and non-native English speakers and more—file their tax returns for free. VITA saved these workers an average of $273 in tax preparation fees and connected them with important financial capability tools like the Earned Income Tax Credit, putting more of these taxpayers’ hard-earned cash back in their pockets. Furthermore, VITA sites are often the link to other health- and wealth-boosting services, like assistance with buying a home and connections to community partners.

The power of VITA is why Rebecca Thompson, Project Director for the Taxpayer Opportunity Network, leapt into action when she heard that Congress was threatening to slash VITA funding by half. “All I could think about was the people,” Rebecca said. “I’ve been a VITA grantee. I know where the money goes. It covers salaries, marketing, equipment and so much more. We serve low- to moderate-income households—people who should never have to pay for their taxes to be filed or prepared. They’re people with one or two good jobs, families with young children, blue-collar workers […]. I think one thing we don't talk about enough is peace of mind. VITA saves [these taxpayers] money, but perhaps even more valuable, it provides a sense of security and financial empowerment. They don’t have to worry about their refunds or getting a letter from IRS saying that they’re in trouble. With this peace of mind, they can focus on savings and planning for the future

Immediately, our team began organizing. We knew we would have to pressure every member of the appropriations subcommittee to ensure VITA funding remained intact. 

Within a week, we had mobilized our networks and advocates sprung to action, making phone calls to their representatives.

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Our Field Engagement team partnered with national organizations, including United Way Worldwide and AARP, to provide scripts and essential data at the congressional district level to demonstrate the power of VITA. Our Federal Policy team met with a dozen key appropriations staffers, including the Chair and ranking members of the Financial Services and General Government subcommittee.We sent action alerts to the 1,700+ members of the Taxpayer Opportunity Network, along with other allies. Our Communications team led social media efforts to spread the word, streaming timely discussions on Facebook Live to share the latest developments on Capitol Hill and outline next steps for advocates.

On July 13—just two weeks after we heard that VITA funding was under attack—we were notified that the funding would be restored to its full $15 million in the 2018 Appropriations bill—a bipartisan agreement that had the support of co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle, thanks in part to Prosperity Now and the thousands of advocates in our networks who seized the opportunity to protect a program that is essential for low- and moderate-income working families across the country.

This advocacy effort was successful because of the strength of our community. Our networks depend on us to be their eyes and ears on the ground in Washington. They’ve entrusted us to inform their communities through data and timely analysis, and to call on them when it’s time to act. We are grateful for them, for our friends on Capitol Hill and for all our partners who helped us move beyond the question of VITA funding to a broader conversation about equitable tax reform.

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