January is a great time to start preparing for tax season. There are a number of community programs that help by providing free or low cost tax prep help (we covered a list earlier this month). One of the biggest tax help programs is United Way of Washtenaw County’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). We recently sat down with Patrick Cornelius, lead for VITA at the United Way of Washtenaw County, to learn about what the VITA program does, how to get involved, and tips to navigate finding tax help.
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Patrick Cornelius: Our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program is a national IRS-sponsored program that pairs certified volunteers with taxpayers to file accurate tax returns for free. Each year we are proud to serve hundreds of clients here in Washtenaw County during tax season thanks to our wonderful team of volunteers.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
PC: It depends on what someone needs. If someone is looking for a tax preparation appointment, we ask them to call 2-1-1 (1-800-552-1183 if calling from a non-local area code) since 211 of Southeast Michigan is handling our scheduling this year. If someone is reaching out to us because they have questions, an urgent tax need or they have any special circumstances we want to set up a phone call where a client has time to walk us through what they are dealing with or what questions they have so that we can figure out how VITA can best assist them!
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
PC: I want to thank all of our community partners across Washtenaw County who help us prepare for and run VITA each year. Our partners include the Manchester Community resource Center, the Ypsilanti District Libraries, Aid in Milan, Housing Bureau for Seniors, the University of Michigan Law School Low Income Tax Payer Clinic, Eastern Michigan University and of course United Way of Washtenaw County and Capital Area United Way.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
PC: I hope they know how lucky I feel to be able to do this work and provide this service. Every year there is an enormous demand for VITA and I hope to help VITA grow and serve more people each and every year.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that needs assistance?
PC: It can be enormously stressful for anyone dealing with financial or tax issues, especially if they are receiving communication from the state of Michigan or the IRS. If you have someone in your life who is struggling with how to get their taxes prepared or is receiving letters or calls from the state treasury or IRS, please encourage them to reach out either to us or another financial wellness program that they may be familiar with. We are enormously busy during tax season, but we always try to make time to answer questions and talk with people who have questions.
AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add?
PC: I just want to thank all our clients who have stuck with us through our transition to operating virtually. Last year VITA definitely went through some growing pains, but I believe the experience this year will be easier on both our clients and our volunteers
Thank you so much to Patrick for sharing information about this valuable community resource! To learn more about United Way’s VISTA program, call them at 2-1-1 (1-800-552-1183 if calling from a non-local area code). Click here to visit their website.