After Providing Free Tax Prep for 50 Years, It’s Time to Make the VITA Program Permanent
This year, VITA—the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program—is turning 50 years old. Over the course of the last five decades, what started as a small program in 1969 to help the IRS increase taxpayer education has evolved the into a critical resource for low- and moderate-income taxpayers. Today, the VITA program helps ensure accurate tax returns for these filers and equitable access to the tax code and its many benefits. It also helps working families overcome many challenges at tax time, such as those due to the recent partial government shutdown, resource constraints at the IRS and first-year filing under the new tax law (the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017).
And yet, despite the longevity of the VITA program, it is still not codified into law.
Fortunately, two champions of VITA in Congress, Representatives Danny Davis (D-IL-7) and Brad Wenstrup (R-OH-2), introduced a bipartisan bill to change that: the VITA Permanence Act (H.R. 1875). This legislation would permanently authorize the VITA program and allow funding for the program to go up to $30 million. Under this legislation, the IRS would continue to administer the program, including providing training and certification to VITA volunteers, ensuring that VITA grant recipients continue to maintain strong records of accuracy and save taxpayers money.
VITA supports those who cannot afford the fees for professional tax services (including those with limited means, disabilities and limited English proficiency) but need assistance to accurately complete their taxes. In 2018, tens of thousands of IRS-certified volunteers working at 3,700 VITA sites across the country prepared over 1.3 million tax returns, all while achieving a 93 percent accuracy rate—one of the highest in the tax preparation industry.
These sites leveraged VITA’s $15 million in funding to generate over $1.8 billion in refunds to households earning less than $55,000 in annual income. These refunds can make up as much as 30 percent of a low-income family’s annual earnings. VITA also protects these refunds from being eroded by costly preparation fees from private tax preparers (at an average of $273 per tax return, according to the National Society of Accountants) and potentially predatory tax time financial products. As a result, VITA continues to help countless families spend more of their refund on what matters: child care expenses, transportation costs, bills, household necessities, debt repayment and savings.
The VITA Permanence Act doesn’t just guarantee the program’s continued existence—it paves the way for more funding. While the advocacy efforts of our Tax Opportunity Network and others led to a recent 20 percent increase in VITA’s funding (going from $15 million in fiscal year 2018 to $18 million in fiscal year 2019), additional funding would allow sites to meet unmet demand by hiring new staff for program coordination, adding new sites, improving volunteer recruitment and increasing outreach efforts to low-income households.
As we continue to work to build support for the VITA program on Capitol Hill during this special anniversary year, we hope you’ll join us in working to increase VITA funding to $30 million along with making it permanent.
Celebrate VITA’s 50th year by contacting your Representative and asking them to make VITA permanent! With your help, we can get VITA permanence to the finish line in its 50th year!