HOPE's tax assistance adds site

February 29, 2008

The HOPE Initiative, a communitywide effort led by the United Way of Henry County & Martinsville, has expanded its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program with a tax site at the Liberty Fair Mall.

The expansion was made possible through a grant from The Harvest Foundation.

“The VITA program is an essential part of the HOPE Initiative’s focus,” HOPE Coordinator Alicia Solomon said in a news release. “Through the work of volunteer income tax preparers who are IRS trained, we are able to help families and individuals with incomes of $40,000 or less keep more money in their pockets.”

Through the VITA program, individuals and families can get their taxes prepared for free. VITA also works to promote the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families and discourage Refund Anticipation Loans, which reduce the amount of the return that people receive.

All VITA returns are electronically filed so that refunds are received within 10 days. Refunds can be directly deposited into an individual’s checking account, savings account or a check can be issued, the release said.

The HOPE Initiative, now starting its second year, has sites at the Liberty Fair Mall, Grace Network and the Free Clinic. The Liberty Fair Mall site is open Mondays through Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m. and Saturdays 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. The site can be contacted by calling 632-7006.

The early opening on Saturday is to help accommodate the large influx of individuals seeking services to qualify for the federal economic stimulus payment.

“We have dedicated Saturday morning between 9 a.m. and 10 a.m. just for people whose only income is Social Security,” said Solomon. “By dedicating a time to just handle those returns, we should be able to get through them fairly quickly. Although that first hour has been reserved to just handle those returns, anyone seeking assistance can visit the site at the Liberty Fair Mall Saturday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.”

The Grace Network is open Mondays from 1 to 7 p.m. and the first Saturday of each month. The contact number is 638-8500.

People should call the Free Clinic at 638-0787 for an appointment at that site. The Southside Community Action Partnership also provides free income tax preparation and can be reached at 666-0313.

Already, the HOPE Initiative has tripled the number of returns done during the entire 2006 tax season, the release said.

“We are excited by the number of returns we have been able to do during such a short period of time. The latest figures show that our service has generated over $150,000 in refunds, with the average refund being $1,095,” Solomon said. “This could not have been made possible without the 20-plus volunteers we have dedicated to the project and the generous support of our community partners.”

Economic stimulus returns

Currently the HOPE Initiative and its VITA sites are receiving many calls about the economic stimulus package and the need to file a return to receive stimulus benefits, the release said. Individuals with questions should visit the United Way Web site under HOPE Initiative at www.unitedwayofhcm.org or the IRS Web site at www.irs.gov for more information.

“Although the tax sites are designed to help those who have a taxable income, we recognize the need to assist those who have not needed to file in the past,” Solomon said.

The IRS linked software, TaxWise, will not allow the sites to electronically file returns where there is no taxable income, such as in the case with someone who receives just Social Security.

“We want to overcome that obstacle and will do so by submitting paper returns for individuals who need to file to qualify for the stimulus payment,” Solomon said. “The United Way, through the HOPE Initiative, is committed and our dedicated volunteers are committed to providing a high quality service to the community.”

The HOPE Initiative is funded by The Harvest Foundation, Lacy Foundation and Community Action Partnership.


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