The following OpEd appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Thursday, April 15, 2021.
Refund. That’s the thrilling word everyone wants to hear at tax time. For many low-income and moderate-income families and individuals, an income tax refund helps make another mortgage payment, or it means they can finish one more semester of college. Car repair bills will be paid, and prescriptions for glasses can finally be updated. It’s an important factor in the financial stability of our neighbors, especially in 2021 when people across our state continue to struggle with their fiscal obligations.
Harnessing the caring power of this community, the United Way recruits nearly 200 volunteers a year for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) initiative. Offering free tax preparation assistance for households who make $58,000 or less annually, United Way and its specially trained volunteers offer these services at designated locations throughout Wichita and nearby communities.
The result is more than $6 million returned to our local economy. Preparing an average of 5,000 returns every year at no charge has a tangible financial impact on our neighbors and our region. It empowers our neighbors to meet their basic needs and stimulates commerce for area businesses.
Many of our friends and neighbors in the community return to volunteer for this program every year, even though their training requires 16-20 hours of annual recertification and examinations. Some are retired accountants, math teachers, engineers or financial executives. Others, like the members of the Wichita chapter of the National Association of Black Accountants, are working professionals. Additionally, young professionals and experienced employees of Koch, Cargill and NetApp are among those who help with tax preparation.
Like so many of you, these volunteers are united in their desire to give back to their communities. They are working for the greater good to help people access the money and tax credits they are entitled to and weather the uncertainty of an economy rocked by the pandemic.
All volunteers deserve even more credit during these uncertain times for their dedication to extending a helping hand to neighbors in need. The extension of the tax filing deadline to May 17, means many of these United Way volunteers have agreed to another four weeks of easing the burden of tax return preparation for those who don’t have the time, knowledge or resources for paid professional guidance.
United Way thanks the site coordinators, greeters and volunteer tax preparers who are the backbone of this successful program that has benefited our community for more than a decade. We also appreciate our partners who provide the buildings, electricity and Wi-Fi for the tax preparation sites, from school gyms to community centers.
Collaborating with so many partners throughout our region enables us to stretch the limited charitable resources available to achieve even more impact in helping others. Working together, we are ensuring our friends and neighbors have more financial stability, experience the support of a caring community, and can take one more step towards achieving their human potential.
Know someone who needs tax filing assistance? Encourage them to call United Way’s free 2-1-1 Information and Referral service to set up an appointment at a tax preparation site. More information can also be found at unitedwayplains.org. An online tax preparation option is available through another United Way partner, myfreetaxes.com.