Jonah Meyers and Leya Speasmaker
In a large-scale effort to bring quality tax preparation services to income-eligible community members, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of San Antonio (CCAOSA), a CLINIC affiliate, partners with United Way of San Antonio and the city of San Antonio to help fund, staff and market 22 tax preparation assistance programs from January to April each year. The collaborative also offers a year-round tax clinic and mobile preparation assistance team. Last tax season, CCAOSA and its partners helped 33,000 individuals and households in San Antonio and neighboring cities file their income tax returns.
These three organizations split up the responsibilities for running this impressive community service. CCAOSA is responsible for recruiting over 300 volunteers to help low-income individuals and households file taxes. They find and train volunteers, retain them during the months outside of tax season, and provide translators to residents who want to file their taxes but lack English language proficiency. The United Way and the city pay for the majority of the program staff, provide the office space, and market the program.
Kimberly Pine, Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program director for CCAOSA, relies heavily on the materials, training and financial support provided by the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programming to offer this free-of-charge tax preparation assistance to the San Antonio area.
The partnership uses both tried and true and cutting-edge ways to market the VITA tax clinics, including street banners, signs at bus stops and in small convenience stores, raffling soccer tickets and soft openings at community centers. Last year their most innovative approach was a Pandora radio ad, from which 10,000 people learned about the availability of the VITA clinics.
For the 2015 tax season, CCAOSA is preparing to expand their services in several ways. Most significantly, they have become an IRS Acceptance Agency for the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) W7 form, meaning they can help non-residents file their taxes. By encouraging people without resident status to file income tax returns, they are increasing the amount of money coming back to their community, and encouraging people to establish a tax history in the United States that may allow them to receive resident status in the future. Additionally for 2015, they plan on expanding referrals to MyFreeTaxes.com, where VITA-eligible people can file taxes for free without coming in to an office.
Finally, Catholic Charities of San Antonio offers many other services that can be beneficial to immigrants using the VITA tax clinics. “When I help somebody file their taxes, they can tell me their whole life story in fifteen minutes,” says Pine. In this way she and other staff members and volunteers can help people find other services that are of benefit to them, such as immigration legal services, English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and citizenship test preparation services.
Please visit this IRS webpage to find out more information about starting a VITA clinic at your agency.
If you have an integration initiative that you would like CLINIC to highlight, please contact Leya Speasmaker, Integration Program Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org.