Making Filing Easier
VITA Program fulfills critical community need
The new year brings new possibilities for the future, but the old year and its efforts cannot be left behind until the government receives its completed 1040 forms. For those people whose household income does not exceed $49,000, The University of Scranton and the United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne counties have teamed up to make income tax preparation fast and free through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. Under the direction of Joseph Hammond, C.P.A., M.B.A., adjunct accounting professor, student interns instruct volunteer University students and community volunteers on how to assist taxpayers in fulfilling their financial obligations.
The free program serves 1,500 clients throughout the two-county region assisting people who meet IRS eligibility criteria. Two years ago, the program received a $28,000 grant that helped to purchase nine computers and a printer, which allowed the program to go mobile. Program volunteers work in 11 sites throughout the area. Because many families that qualify for VITA assistance also enroll their children in the Head Start pre-school program, VITA added four new sites at Head Start locations this year in order to make the program more accessible.
Volunteers attend one of two three-and-a-half-hour sessions during which they are instructed and tested on the ethics of assisting people with income tax returns. The training includes how to work appropriately with clients and to protect their privacy, and the intricacies of the tax form and codes. Volunteers learn to complete federal, state, local and property forms and how to amend tax returns. According to Hammond, the preparation is “a practical hands-on approach.” This year the program trained close to 60 volunteers. Beginning Feb. 5, student volunteers provided 28 days of on-campus appointments and United Way volunteers staffed 28 days at community sites, offering a total of 262 hours of free tax assistance.
VITA volunteer and United Way staff member Peg Kopka calls the program a “truly great partnership that [the United Way] could not do without the University.” The relationship between the University and the United Way is a winning combination. It utilizes the energy of a committed faculty member – Hammond has been involved with the program for more than 10 of its 22-year existence – with students and United Way volunteers who wish to serve the community while sharpening their interpersonal and professional skills with people who need assistance with their tax returns.
Ben Franklin wrote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” All Americans must pay taxes, and certainly the University has committed to help complete those tax returns.