Congress Maintains VITA’s Current Funding—Let’s Double it for Next Year.
Last week, Congress passed the spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2018, and the President signed it into law. Thanks to all our advocates' calls, emails, tweets, posts and visits to their Members of Congress, the bill included $15 million in funding for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Despite proposed funding cuts to VITA by the House last summer, this is the same amount of money VITA received in FY 2017, showing that VITA will maintain its current level of funding in FY 2018.
Funding for the program is typically allocated from Congress annually, but the funding cycle was off this year due to months of continuing resolutions and threats of a shutdown. Now that the FY 2018 spending bill has been signed, it is time to start engaging in our VITA fight for next year.
In response to the growing need and demand for tax preparation services (especially with the new tax legislation that will affect 2018 tax returns) and less funding and resources for the IRS, funding for VITA should be doubled from $15 million to $30 million. There are two pathways that Prosperity Now, alongside partners like United Way Worldwide, are pursuing to make that happen: (1) advocating for $30 million in the FY 2019 appropriations process; and (2) encouraging Congress to support and pass the VITA Permanence Act, which would permanently authorize VITA and allow up to $30 million in funding for the program.
VITA helps those who cannot afford professional tax services but need assistance to accurately complete their taxes by providing free, high-quality and accurate return preparation services. VITA also ensures that taxpayers claim all the credits they are entitled to, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit. The program has a 93% accuracy rate—one of the highest in the industry. There are 4,300 VITA sites around the country that prepared over 1.4 million tax returns in 2017, generating over $2.1 billion in refunds to assist households earning less than $54,000 in annual income.
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 and potentially predatory tax time financial products. Since VITA is free, this problem is avoided, and families spend more of their refund on the things that matter: child expenses, transportation costs, bills, household necessities, debt repayment and future savings.
Funding for VITA sites primarily goes to staff time to coordinate the program and train volunteers as well as marketing and the cost of equipment and supplies. Increasing VITA funding from $15 million to $30 million would help programs hire new staff to coordinate the program, add new VITA sites, substantially improve volunteer recruitment and increase outreach efforts to low-income households.
On VITA Awareness Day—March 14th—over a hundred advocates around the country contacted their Members of Congress to request $30 million in funding for VITA in FY 2019. Champions of VITA, such as Representatives Carlos Curbelo (R-FL-26) and Darren Soto (D-FL-9), highlighted the importance of the Act in national media. We need you to join these VITA champions and advocates and speak up for this program that connects 1.4 million low-income households to their tax refunds every year.
Here’s what you can do. Contact your Member of Congress and:
- Ask them to request $30 million in funding for VITA in FY 2019.
- Ask them to co-sponsor the VITA Permanence Act.
- Invite them to visit your VITA site during their Congressional recess (lasting between now and April 6th).
Together, we can strengthen and expand the reach of the VITA program by encouraging Congress to double its funding.
Thank you for all you do for the good of VITA!