Middlesex United Way tax aid program had banner season in 50th year

MIDDLETOWN — During this year, the 50th anniversary of the federal Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, the local Middlesex County VITA program had its biggest numbers ever: 657 households received help in preparing their taxes, up from 542 returns in 2018.

“We want to draw attention to the success of the VITA program nationally, and celebrate the great work of our dozens of volunteers here in Middlesex County,” said Nancy Meyers, chair of the Middlesex VITA Coalition.

Fifty years ago, Congress created a program in the Internal Revenue Service to provide funding, expertise and oversight for a volunteer program to assist American taxpayers below median income ($55,000 this year) to prepare their taxes.

The VITA program operates in all 50 states. The IRS funds nonprofits to recruit volunteers, trains them using IRS materials, makes sure they pass the IRS certification test, and organizes sessions for taxpayers to meet with volunteers to complete their tax returns.

Eleven years ago, in 2008, the Middlesex United Way and the Middlesex Coalition for Children banded together to organize a local VITA program. They knew free tax preparation saves struggling households money. They wanted to make sure eligible local families received federal refundable tax credits, like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the largest federal anti-poverty initiative, helping working families with children to try and escape severe poverty.

Our vision here at Middlesex United Way is for families in Middlesex County to be financially stable, and that’s why we’re involved in programs like the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, which helps families improve their economic situation.

Starting small, the Middlesex VITA Coalition has grown until each year more than 40 community volunteers, after achieving various levels of IRS certification, staff at least seven three-hour tax preparation sessions a week.

“The enthusiasm and caring of our 45 volunteers was extraordinary. They calmed nervous clients and helped them understand the taxation process,” said Linda Ring, VITA’s retiring volunteer manager.

The sessions are held at Middlesex United Way’s office in downtown Middletown, and at the offices of the North End Action Team on Main Street. Some have also been held at Middlesex Community College.

The number of taxpayers taking advantage of the program has grown steadily, from under 100 in the first year to this year’s record 657. The program is serving households who most need help: the average adjusted gross income of VITA filers this year was $23,675. A third received Earned Income Tax Credits, putting $326,000 into the pockets of local working families with children. Total refunds approached $1 million ($967,000).

“Many more families in Middlesex County could save money by using the VITA program,” said Jay Keiser, VITA’s program manager.

All we need is more volunteers. If you would like to learn to be an expert tax preparer and use your skills to benefit others, visit Middlesex United Way website, or call 860-346-8695.

Kevin Wilhelm is president and CEO of the Middlesex United Way in Middletown.