Although the stresses of the tax season always weigh heavy on the minds of many, this year presents particular challenges for those who are not sure how and when to pay their taxes in a time of global transition, one in which all the rules have changed--and especially for those who, in a time of great economic strain, may feel unsure about their ability to pay for quality tax preparation services--let alone pay their taxes.
"Many individuals and families rely on the money they receive from their tax returns and EITC every year," explained Angie B. Walasek, executive director/CEO of United Way of Hernando County. "Now with COVID-19, households are looking to save any way and every way they can."
United Way of Hernando County is here to help--partnering with the IRS to provide free tax preparation to Hernando County residents through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.
"VITA is a FREE service that saves users anywhere from $250-$400 dollars on average when it comes to filing," said Walasek. "This money saved could easily be used for basic needs such as rent, utilities, food, school items, etc."
Last year, in the face of a 2020 tax season abbreviated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, dedicated volunteers prepared more than 714 returns and saved residents an estimated $249,900.
This year, more VITA volunteers are needed to safely provide this free service to Hernando County residents--and at a time when it's more needed than ever. United Way is recruiting greeters, tax preparers, and quality reviewers to render the next tax season (January through April 2021) and the accompanying tax preparation process as safe and seamless as possible.
"The perfect VITA Volunteer is caring, kind, and genuine. They are good with crunching numbers, they are patient, and they are sincere about helping residents through this annual financial stability initiative," said Walasek. "There is no preferred VITA Volunteer age. We have dedicated senior citizen volunteers to PHSC students – all of them give the same level of quality care."
And this year, she said, the need is greater than ever.
"On average, the United Way of Hernando County VITA program serves approximately 900-1,000 households each filing season (bringing over $1 million back into the community). However, due to COVID-19 hitting our local communities in the middle of the 2020 season, we were still able to safely serve 714 households," said Walasek. "We anticipate the need to be greater than ever this coming tax season. The number of VITA Volunteers we are able to certify will determine how many people we can assist!"
Interested volunteers are welcome to attend a virtual VITA Volunteer Meet & Greet 10 a.m. Thursday, November 5, via Zoom, where they will interact with other VITA Volunteers and learn about this helpful free tax service and the volunteering requirements that accompany it.
All volunteers will be trained and certified by the IRS in December. And this year, their specialized training will include a crash course in health and safety.
During this VITA tax season and in the time of COVID-19, United Way is requiring the wearing of masks for clients and volunteers, as well as temperature checks at the door. Plexiglass partitions will be installed at preparation sites to separate clients and volunteers, and physical distancing measures will be enforced. In addition, the possibilities of virtual and contactless tax preparation are being considered.
To become a VITA volunteer, fill out an application by visiting www.UnitedWayHernando.org/Volunteer.
United Way and the IRS are finalizing training dates, and more information will be shared with volunteers shortly. To RSVP for this VITA Meet & Greet and to obtain the Zoom meeting link and password, contact Samantha Beckham, Community Outreach Coordinator at the United Way of Hernando County at [email protected] For more information on United Way’s VITA program, visit www.UnitedWayHernando.org/VITA or call the UW office at 352-688-2026.
"VITA Volunteers are not only there to provide a FREE service, they often serve as sound boards and a person to listen to them," said Walasek. "Returning VITA Volunteers often work with returning VITA Clients. This occurs thanks to trust and relationship building."