Every year, households miss out on about $10.5 billion in Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) money. This cash is available to many low-income workers, but not all eligible workers claim this benefit due to the barrier of filing taxes. These benefits are crucial for the financial stability for these people. To help these households claim the EITC and other credits, Code for America is partnering with the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program to launch GetYourRefund, a digital service that will make VITA resources more accessible.
GetYourRefund is a free, secure, and easy way for people to complete their taxes and claim all their eligible tax credits. When using GetYourRefund, IRS-certified volunteers across the country provide assistance and clarity through the tax process at no cost for low-to-moderate income tax filers through VITA partner organizations across the country.
A Kansas City-based VITA service is provided by Connecting for Good in partnership with United Way. One of their programs is a tax preparation service, which includes another free tax assistance site as well as various documents and guides in English and Spanish to help people working through their returns at home. They also offer volunteer opportunities within this service for people interested in assisting in training to help with returns during tax season.
VITA partner organizations and the volunteers who make them possible have been around for over 50 years providing free in-person tax preparation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These local services such as those provided by Connecting for Good are extremely beneficial to their communities during normal tax seasons because individuals and families can receive assistance without the cost of an account and without going too far out of their way. But as VITA offices had to close across the country, the virtual pilot that was planned for four organizations had to rapidly expand as demand grew tax assistance while maintaining necessary public health measures.
That’s when Code for America sent out a call for help to volunteers from local Brigades across the country. Leslie Scott, Code for KC core team member, was one of the first to answer the call in April. She initially signed on to lead the volunteer management team and then had to quickly ramp up to help coordinate the 135 additional volunteers who raised their hand to see if they could help.
After matching skills, interests and availability to project needs, she ended up onboarding dozens of volunteers from across the country who created training materials, helped onboard VITA organizations and supported partners as they served clients. She was soon brought on as a contracted organizer to lead the client support team that answers questions ranging from stimulus payment and refund status to tax-specific issues. Some volunteers who knew nothing about taxes prior to this project even passed tests to obtain certifications provided by the IRS that enabled them to serve partners and clients.
Clients across the country have rated the GetYourRefund process 4.8/5 stars on average. Many Kansas Citians could benefit from the use of this service as explained by Brent Schondelmeyer, Deputy Director of Community Engagement at LINC:
“We have many employees who are eligible for free tax preparation. GetYourRefund has a nice user interface that takes a daunting task and makes it easy to complete. There are options to get help or your questions answered.”
As the July 15 deadline approaches, volunteers continue to help Code for America serve clients and partners, and the team is gaining insight on how to make the project even more successful next year. If you’re still working on your tax returns and want to learn more about the EITC, you can visit GetYourRefund for easy assistance.