Laredoans who wish to train as tax preparers for the local Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program can do so by completing 16 hours of IRS-certified instruction before January 30. The training requirement can be completed in a span of two Saturday classes (8 a.m. to 5 p.m.) or five weekday sessions (5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.) Training is also available for those who were unable to attend the trainings prior to the tax season.
According to Jack Byham, chair of the Laredo Family Economic Success Coalition (LFESC), which administers the VITA program, training has been underway since early November for greeters, site coordinators, and tax preparers. The organization had 151 volunteers for the 2017 return preparations and has now set a goal to grow the 2018 program to 200 preparers who can meet the organization’s mission to provide free, electronically filed tax returns to over 5,000 local residents. Area residents who earn $66,000 or less per year, who are elderly, who are persons with disabilities, or who have a limited ability to speak English qualify for VITA’s free tax preparation services.
“Our IRS liaison tells us that the VITA program reaches less than 5% of Laredoans eligible for VITA services. We want to reach more of the community and cut waiting time at our service locations,” Byham said, adding that the Laredo Public Library and the Mann Road Goodwill store are the two VITA sites that draw the most traffic.
VITA’s services include assisting individuals in filing for extensions and preparing both returns and amendments up to three years in the past.
Byham stressed that VITA’s services are available to Laredoans who do not have full citizenship status or a Social Security number. “We can help set up a client’s Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) and file with that,” he said. VITA does not report to other federal agencies on an individual’s citizenship status. “We are just interested in taxes,” Byham said.
VITA-prepared returns are quality reviewed before being printed and e-filed.
According to Byham, “The goal of our program is to help taxpayers file for the maximum return to which they are entitled under the law for free, so they can keep 100% of their return.”
Volunteer preparers will begin their work on January 20 at a Super Saturday event at the Joe A. Guerra Laredo Public Library. (A complete list of sites follows this story.)
Byham said that one of the most positive and compelling affirmations that VITA’s services are of benefit to Laredoans is that refunds itemized for 13 VITA sites totaled over $9 million in federal dollars was returned to area residents.
VITA operates under the auspices of the Laredo Family Economic Success Coalition (LFESC), which is still administered by, among others, many of its original founding members — María Soliz of the Laredo Public Library, Rafael Torres of the Azteca Economic Development Program, Rogelio Treviño of Texas Workforce Solutions, and Richard Rodriguez of Laredo Independent School District. The LFESC, in its original conception, has for its goal the long-term prosperity of the community
The (LFESC), a 501©3 non-profit, is a voluntary partnership of private and public organizations that are stakeholders in the economic development and financial well-being of the community. The Coalition includes representatives from the IRS along with public and private organizations working together to promote Federal tax benefits and help low to moderate income families with free income tax assistance through VITA, financial literacy and education, asset building, and workforce development.
“The mission of the LFESC is to make a positive difference in the lives of low to moderate income families by assisting them in becoming financially stable and self-sufficient,” said Byham, the coalition’s chair and an assistant professor of political science at Texas A&M International University.
“The coalition and the volunteers who are part of VITA truly care for the community,” he said.
For further information on becoming a VITA volunteer or to have a tax return prepared by VITA, call (956) 307-8138 or go to vitalaredo.org