Hartford, Conn. (August 21, 2020) – Despite widespread closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic which forced many to transition from in-person to virtual tax filing, more residents in central and northeastern Connecticut took advantage of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program this year.
This year’s VITA program in central and northeastern Connecticut – which included in-person appointments and Virtual VITA online appointments – supported 13,192 tax filers, a 7.68 percent increase in the number of tax filers compared with 12,250 filers in 2019.
Tax filers who received support from the VITA program received a total of $34.7 million in refunds and credits, an 11.5 percent increase compared with $31.1 million in 2019.
VITA volunteers are still filing returns for taxpayers with incomes up to $56,000 that qualify for VITA. Tax filers may sign up for Virtual VITA assistance at https://thevillage.jotform.com/201885482311959.
In early January, Central and Northeastern Connecticut’s VITA program, managed by The Village for Families and Children, United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut, Connecticut Association for Human Services and Human Resources Agency of New Britain, opened more than 30 tax support sites across the region for individuals and families with 2019 incomes up to $56,000. MyFreeTaxes.com, free to all tax filers with no income requirement, was also available for individuals interested in preparing their tax return online.
As the COVID-19 pandemic created the need for social distancing in March and the in-person sites were closed, VITA coalitions across the state worked with United Way of Connecticut/211ct.org to create “Virtual VITA” – a way for residents to get their taxes done through internet-based virtual appointments with IRS-trained VITA volunteers.
“In partnership with United Way of Connecticut/211.ct.org/taxhelp, we were able to rapidly develop an online solution to help VITA clients file their taxes with the same level of confidence and accuracy as they would have received at our in-person VITA sites,” said Laura O’Keefe, director of family financial stability at The Village for Families and Children.
The Virtual VITA program for central and northeastern Connecticut opened in mid-May. Between mid-May and July 15, 1635 filers in the region completed their return virtually by phone and internet with the help of IRS-trained VITA volunteers. These VITA tax filers received a total of $2,387,953 in federal refunds and credits, or an average federal refund of $1,410 per person and average earned income tax credit of $1,111.
As the need for social distancing continued, many long-time VITA clients were referred to the Virtual VITA program from their existing VITA site, or from family or friends. During this year’s tax season, VITA volunteers—both in-person and online—contributed 12,557 hours of volunteer time. Multiplied by independentsector.org’s $32.07 per hour cost of volunteers’ time in Connecticut, VITA volunteers’ time to help tax filers in 2020 is estimated at $402,702.99.
“We’ve been amazed at the positive response and level of participation in Virtual VITA within such a short period,” said Christine Gaumond, VITA program coordinator at The Village for Families and Children. “Our VITA volunteers are grateful to have helped put money back in the pockets of some our region’s most vulnerable families during this stressful time.”
As organizations continue to navigate COVID-19 related risks unknown, VITA coalition members are planning for both Virtual VITA and in-person site-based VITA support options in 2021.
“No one has a crystal ball on how the virus will evolve in Connecticut this fall and winter,” said O’Keefe. “We’re keeping all our options open. We’re also continuing to spread the word on VITA for all who will be eligible to use this free, accurate and supportive tax filing resource in 2021.”
“United Way has been a proud partner in the VITA campaign for nearly two decades,” said Paula S. Gilberto, President and CEO, United Way of Central and Northeastern Connecticut. “We recruit volunteer tax preparers and also provide funding to ensure this service is available to filers. Thanks to the support of generous donors, we are able to ensure that people access the refunds and credits for which they are eligible. I’m grateful to our partners at The Village and HRA as well as the hundreds of volunteers who came together to make this year a success despite all of the challenges and new sets of circumstances we had to navigate.”