Preparing and filing tax returns can often be an unwanted chore, but for many West Virginians it can also be difficult and nearly impossible without help.
‘Joseph and Mildred’ cannot read or write well.
‘Ann’ speaks limited English.
‘George and Margaret’ are hard of hearing.
‘Jessica’ has moved out of her parents’ house and is supporting herself by working at a fast food restaurant.
The Catholic Charities Martinsburg office has been able to help all of these individuals and hundreds more through its participation in the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program for low- and moderate- income taxpayers. As part of the program, certified volunteers, recruited by Catholic Charities staff, prepare tax returns free of charge.
Last year, Catholic Charities volunteer tax preparers completed returns for 220 taxpayers who received a total of $334,648 in federal tax returns and $29,287 in state tax returns for Eastern Panhandle residents. They were able to accomplish this despite the COVID-19 pandemic. With the extension of the filing season, the volunteers continued to help clients into the summer.
In preparation of this year’s tax season, the Catholic Charities team began last fall to plan how they could safely
provide tax services. Instead of having the volunteers meet with clients and prepare the taxes at the office, staff and volunteers are meeting clients at their cars to collect documents and then scan them to a secure site. The eight volunteer tax preparers access the documents remotely and then contact the tax clients via phone to complete the returns.
Despite the pandemic, Catholic Charities continues to work with community partners to help vulnerable individuals, and the volunteers are going beyond what is required of them. For example, the manager at a local low-income senior housing program is collecting information and documents from residents. Staff and volunteers are picking up and delivering paperwork directly to the complex. Because of this, clients that have cognitive and physical issues are still receiving the personal tax help they need.
While the VITA tax program is provided in addition to the Martinsburg office’s year-round services, the extra work is worthwhile because the tax clients are all very appreciative. As one woman said, “I don’t know what I would do if Catholic Charities didn’t provide this service.”
By Trina Bartlett, Eastern Regional Director, Catholic Charities West Virginia