By: George Kuebler, United Way of Porter County VITA Supervisor
Taxpayers taking advantage of the Northwest Indiana Taxpayer Assistance Coalition have found the service “a godsend,” said one retiree. His is one of many comments by taxpayers who used the program for the 2013 tax year.
Other taxpayers with moderate incomes, those who are disabled and the senior citizens have been equally complimentary about this free service, provided by Northwest Indiana Community Action, United Way of Porter County and the Urban League. This service is made possible by grants from JPMorgan Chase Foundation and the IRS.
Volunteers are being sought again this year by a five-county regional coalition to prepare income taxes for the moderate to low income, disabled and elderly. The program offered through the Internal Revenue Service is called VITA, for Volunteer Income Tax Assistance. It depends on community volunteers to staff it.
This past year, coalition volunteers in Lake, Porter, Newton, Jasper and Pulaski counties prepared more than 1,700 federal tax returns with refunds in excess of $1.7 million.
The coalition is anchored by the Asset Building Campaign of Northwest Community Action, headquartered in Crown Point, and is joined by the United Way of Porter County and the Urban League of Northwest Indiana.
Key to the program has been the volunteer piece, the more volunteers we have the more returns we can prepare and more people can be helped.
All study materials, testing and certification are available online by the IRS and are available without charge. Those who successfully complete the program and pass the certification test become IRS-certified volunteers.
Previous year volunteers have high praise for the program and find it a rewarding volunteer experience. Several have been repeat volunteers for several years.
Ginger Brockwehl, a United Way of Porter County volunteer preparer for many years and an assistant site supervisor: “I like to help people. I like to work with numbers and it’s fun. However, you don’t have to be an accountant because the software program does the (number) work for you. Your training is to help you understand where to find the resources.”
Rose Sykes is a VITA volunteer with the Asset Building Campaign in Hammond, East Chicago and Crown Point. “This is my seventh or eighth year. You get far more out of it than you put in to it. The training is done at your leisure online. You’re not just doing taxes for client; you become their confidant in a way, and seniors are especially grateful. I find it to be a rewarding experience. “
Linda Gates has been a volunteer with the VITA program at the Urban League of Northwest Indiana in Gary. “It’s an excellent program. I enjoy helping people.”
Tax clients also have many positive comments about the service:
A retired teacher said, “The preparer was most helpful. She clearly explained each step in recording the information. Thanks to the Urban League for providing this service to the community.”
A retiree from Porter County stated, “The volunteer tax preparer was so courteous and nice. I couldn’t ask for more. And the free tax service sure helps when you are on a reduced income. I hope to use your service next year.”
A Whiting retiree said, “This is a wonderful thing to offer. I can no longer afford the cost of a privately prepared tax form. Your staff is professional and courteous. I was treated with respect. Thank you.”
A single mother of two from Crown Point felt the service was “very helpful. Without it I would have a challenge paying someone to do my taxes, and I usually don't receive much back. Please continue to provide this service to people like me who really need it!”