Local Earned Income Tax Credit Day Celebration Highlights Free Tax-Preparation Service Available through United Way

January 30, 2009

For Immediate Release Media Contact: Dianne Laubert (561) 375-6667

BOYNTON BEACH, Fla., January 30, 2009 – This morning, United Way of Palm Beach County, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and other community partners held a press conference to highlight National Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Day, and to celebrate the free income-tax preparation service available through United Way’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program. The service is available to individuals and families with a household income of $42,000 or less.

United Way of Palm Beach County operates 20 VITA sites located throughout the community – from Jupiter to Boca Raton and west in Belle Glade and Pahokee. The sites are open January 20 through April 14.

The press conference was held on National Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Day, a day in which many communities around the nation hold similar events to bring awareness of EITC to taxpayers. EITC is a federal tax credit for individuals and families who meet certain income and eligibility guidelines. It was established by Congress in 1975 to help working, low-income individuals and families. Sometimes people are not aware they qualify for EITC, and sometimes tax preparers are not aware or do not ask. The VITA Program focuses on educating individuals about EITC, and helping eligible workers file for it. Many residents qualify for EITC, but are unaware they do, so they do not apply for them.

"Some taxpayers may be overlooking a valuable tax credit that could make their lives a little easier," says Margaret O'Malley, Senior Tax Consultant for the IRS in West Palm Beach. “The IRS estimates that up to one in four taxpayers who qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit fail to claim the credit.”

O’Malley stresses that it is important for residents to know that even if they are not required to file a return, they must do so in order to receive EITC. The volunteers at VITA sites help residents who are eligible, apply for EITC.

“That is just another reason why people should utilize a VITA site to file a return,” added O’Malley.

The VITA Program also helps tax payers save over $1 million in tax-preparation fees they would have paid had they used a tax-preparation company. Research shows that taxpayers receiving refunds through returns processed at VITA sites used their refunds for many purposes such as paying off debt, investing in education or housing, or opening a bank account. This is new money for the local economy.

The sites are designed to make the service convenient for residents. Each VITA site offers different hours of operation, including day, weeknight and weekend hours, making it easier for those who work. In addition, some sites have translators who speak Spanish, Creole, Chinese and Thai. All sites are wheelchair accessible. All returns processed at VITA sites are e-filed so filers can receive their refund money quickly, normally in 10-12 days. The sites are staffed by volunteers who have been trained and certified by the IRS to prepare taxes using the VITA Program.

Last year, more than 11,400 residents used the VITA Program, and received $14 million in refunds, including $5.8 million in Earned Income Tax Credits. Before United Way’s involvement in the VITA Program, only 641 residents were using the service.

To find a VITA site, residents need to call 2-1-1, the county’s information and referral line. United Way of Palm Beach County also has an updated list of VITA sites on its Web site www.unitedwaypbc.org Look for the “Taxes Done Free” icon on the right side of the home page.

Also during the press conference, United Way announced the VITA program has had a $90 million impact on the local economy. That figure was determined based upon an evaluation of the program that was conducted by the Center for Urban and Economic Development (CUED) at the University of Chicago. CUED evaluators stated that tax payers receiving refunds through returns processed at VITA sites, in turn, used the added income for many purposes such as paying off debt, investing in education or housing, or opening a bank account. When the money is spent, it circulates through the local economy, generating income for business owners and workers, who in turn, spend money. Evaluators stated that the circulated money has a multiplier value of 1.5, so for every dollar generated by the VITA program, it has had an economic impact on the local economy of $1.50.

“The VITA Program is a perfect example of a community collaborative effort between nonprofits and government,” said Wayne Cunningham, chief operating officer, United Way of Palm Beach County. “The VITA Program is a free service because of the more than 150 United Way volunteers who learn from the IRS how to prepare tax returns. In addition, we are able to provide 20 convenient VITA site locations because of our partnership with the county, local municipalities and our community partners.”

Partners in this year’s VITA Program include United Way of Palm Beach County, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners, 211 Palm Beach/Treasure Coast, National Disability Institute, Bank of America, Wachovia and Quantum Foundation. Additional support is provided by many local nonprofits and municipalities in which VITA sites are located.

United Way of Palm Beach County targets the community’s most pressing needs and focuses resources, agency partnerships and the energy of volunteers to create measurable results that have the greatest impact. To invest, volunteer, or for more information, call United Way of Palm Beach County at(561) 375-6600 or visit www.unitedwaypbc.org

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View the list of VITA site locations

Download and Print VITA Flyers (to promote the service)

Learn more about the VITA and Prosperity Programs

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