United Way of Racine County fights for the health, education, and financial stability of every person in our community
What does it mean to fight for financial stability? Well, for one thing, it means tackling the community’s most pressing issues before they turn into significant problems.
One way United Way of Racine County does this is through our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance initiative, a national program managed by a number of United Ways throughout the country and staffed with local volunteers.
We helped bring VITA back to our community in 2017. The goal was to fill a gap in financial services aimed at helping low- to moderate-income Racine County residents. And while it might seem like VITA is simply a program helping people in need prepare and file their taxes for free, that’s just a small part of what we believe is a vitally important first step toward economic mobility.
Every year, around this time, it happens. The dust settles from the holidays, the snow starts piling up, and we all start wishing for spring as we prepare to do our taxes.
While tax season might seem like an inconvenience to some, tax time carries an added burden for hundreds of thousands of tax filers here in Wisconsin. Many working families still struggle to stretch their incomes to make ends meet. Tax time is often a reminder of that struggle.
To illustrate the importance of a program like VITA, consider this: according to data from United Way of Wisconsin, 42 percent of households statewide struggle to afford the basic necessities of housing, child care, health care, food, and transportation.
In addition to helping individuals file their taxes for free, trained VITA volunteers provide financial coaching as well as assistance in helping tax filers take advantage of the tax credits available to them, especially the Earned Income Tax Credit.
As it turns out, the EITC is one of the best poverty-fighting tools available to low- and moderate-income tax filers. There’s plenty of research to back this up.
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, families mostly use the EITC to pay for necessities, repair homes, maintain vehicles that are needed to commute to work, and in some cases, obtain additional education or training to boost their employability and earning power. Combined with the Child Tax Credit, these tools have the ability to lift millions out of poverty.
Unfortunately, these valuable tax credits often go unclaimed. Each year, 20 percent of eligible tax filers miss out, according to the IRS. United Way volunteers often find that tax filers just don’t realize these tax credits are available, which can be a pleasant surprise during an otherwise stressful time.
In 2017, 367,000 Wisconsin residents received about $825 million in EITC, with credits averaging about $2,248. In Racine County, United Way VITA volunteers prepared and filed more than 400 tax returns, which helped to bring $564,931 in state and federal refunds back to the community, including more than $130,000 in federal tax credits.
For some, tax refunds are a nice boost, a chance to indulge or take a trip. For many, tax credits can mean the difference between paying a utility bill or a car payment and putting food on the table.
I encourage you to learn more about how your support of United Way of Racine County helps us fight for the financial stability of every person in our community. Better yet, get involved if you have the time. Become a VITA volunteer. To learn more, visit UnitedWayRacine.org/VITA.