KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – The Volunteer Tax Assistance Program or “VITA” helps people with low to middle incomes to find their way around the tax system.
VITA offers disabled, elderly and restricted English speakers free tax assistance. However, due to the pandemic, VITA volunteers can no longer see as many people as in the past.
Tax Preparation by VITA Volunteers supports thousands of people in various locations in East Tennessee each year. However, fewer taxpayers will be served this year as VITA has fewer volunteers, fewer locations and you can’t just walk inside. Instead, you need to make an appointment.
Getting free tax benefits is no longer like this year at VITA locations in East Tennessee.
First you need to make an appointment for assistance. There is no one-to-one service during the pandemic. Income tax assistance volunteer creators at the CAC Center in Knoxville work on papers at their inside desks while customers wait outside the LT Ross building.
“Everything is different because of COVID. Instead of sitting across from us at the desk, we now need appointments. It used to be a first come and first serve situation. You make the appointments with us, ”said Terry Reed, VITA site coordinator.
Once on the schedule, some people will be waiting in their cars … and they will move quickly as soon as someone calls and tells the preparer that he is ready for them.
“We arrange for us to come out in front of the building, collect your documents and tell you what needs to be put in your package. They fill out all the documents and call us when they are ready. We’ll take it to an accountant who’ll prepare it, ”said Terry Reed. “And we go through the tax return. We get the questions answered and when we’re done we meet her outside to go through the tax return and get the tax return signatures. It’s a very labor-intensive process compared to what we or the customers are used to. “
And it’s a real workout for the preparers when they go back and forth. Fortunately, Sherre Hamker says everything she needs is in one package.
“We have a taxpayer consent form that you fill out. Then there is the stimulus and other things that you put in the envelope, ”Sheree Hamker said. “Then they give you your form and you fill it in with a pencil. And then hand in all of your tax returns – your ID, social security card, and anything else you need – hand them in and wait for them to call you. “
However, the pandemic will likely reduce half the number of people supported by the creators compared to a normal year. As a result, many low-income files may not be able to schedule an appointment for tax relief by April 15.
We advocate that Congress and the Senate urge the IRS to extend the deadline. The tax season actually started about a month later than usual. And the idea of meeting the April 15th deadline and COVID being a big part of the picture doesn’t make sense to me. There are many, much fewer VITA locations, there are fewer volunteers. There are fewer AARP free tax websites, ”said Terry Reed.
For those who complete the process, they are grateful for the support.
VITA isn’t the only free tax relief program hit by the East Tennessee pandemic. AARP reports fewer volunteers and fewer locations. And if you’ve used the IRS’s free service in the past, you need to sign up for an appointment with them and there is no walk-in service.