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How United Way’s tax assistance program helps lower-income Iowans with financial stability during pandemic

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We Fight For Iowans

LINN COUNTY, Iowa (KWWL) - When it comes to doing taxes, everyone could benefit from a little help or advice. But, not everyone can afford to pay for professional services to find all of those tax breaks and credits.

As part of the united way's fight for financial stability, Linn and Jones County residents can get professional help through a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program known as VITA.

In 2018, the VITA program helped Linn County Residents receive $3.8 million in Federal and State tax refunds.

VITA Program Coordinator, Meredith Hershner said for clients who qualify for the program by making less than $54,000 that money can have a big financial impact.

There are two ways clients can utilize the program by scheduling an appointment through 211 on a landline or 319-739-4211 on a mobile device.

Clients can either utilize the drop-off service or ask for a 1-hour appointment. However, this year United Way is pushing for drop-off services only due to COVID-19.

"Our clients come in, they drop off their taxes with us and it takes about 15 minutes," said Hershner, "Then they come back in about a week or two and pick them up and we have preparers who work on those taxes at home."

United Way's VITA program held one of its first drop-off clinics on Wednesday, June 24th after being derailed by the pandemic.

"We have almost 600 people who we had to cancel on and so it's a big number," said Hershner, "So this summer we wanted to come back because the tax deadline for the federal government is extended until July 15 and for the state it's July 31."

United Way's VITA program

One of the hundreds utilizing the VITA service this year is Lily Laio who switched over to use United Way's service to get a professional eye and ensure everything was done correctly.

"I've been using it for more than 7 years already," said Liao.

What separates VITA services Hershner said is the attention to tax credits for people and families considered low income or who make less than $54,000, such as the earned income credit and additional child tax credit.

"So if you have a single mother, who has two or three children and she's making $24,000 a year, she may be getting back $5,000 with those credits," said Hershner, "That is a significant amount of money for her, and helps her be more stable for the rest of the year."

In 2018, earned income credit amounted to more than $1 million for Linn County clients and $60,000 in returns for Jones County clients.

Liao said the convenience is also a plus and why she has used the service for some long.

"When you start coming here they already have your information in their system so i'd rather trust them here and the people are very nice," said Liao.

The program is sponsors by the IRS. All documents are quality reviewed by two prepares to ensure accuracy.

211 handles all the scheduling for VITA, simply call to get started.

Last year, 109 volunteers put in more than 5,000 hours to prepare 2,239 federal tax returns.

Click here to find more information on the program and other United Way of East Central Iowa assistance services.

KWWL and the United Way are teaming up for a day of giving on Tuesday, June 30th.  We’ll be asking for your help all day and during a special broadcast at 6:30 that night.

When it comes to protecting our most vulnerable, every dollar counts, and it all starts with your help.

Please join the battle Tuesday, June 30th, as We Fight For Iowans!

You can donate to your local United Way at WeFightFor.org

You can also text WEFIGHT to 91999  

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Ashley Neighbor

Reporter, Cedar Rapids

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