Lifeline applauded for serving to low-income people with tax returns | Editorial | Opinion

Starting in early 2020 and going forward, the novel coronavirus pandemic brought changes to the lives of many Americans.

But one mandate that didn’t get wiped out by COVID-19 is the requirement to pay income taxes.

Some people find it easy to prepare their own tax returns. For others, it’s a complicated task that requires outside help.

However, accountants and tax-preparation specialists can be expensive, to the point of being unaffordable for low-income families and individuals. That’s why it’s nice to have the Lifeline Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in our region. Lifeline VITA provides its services, free of charge, to Lake and Geauga County residents in need every year.

Lifeline Inc., which is based in Lake County, recently concluded its 2021 tax season with its best results ever, according to the agency’s administration.

Final statistics for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program for the 2021 tax season show that 265 residents had their taxes prepared at a Lifeline VITA tax clinic and that 52 of them received the Earned Income Tax Credit.

Total returns generated at Lifeline’s VITA clinics were $277,089, over $90,000 more than the 2020 tax season, officials confirmed.

“We’re really excited about the number of people that we served with free tax preparation services this season — the most we’ve ever assisted in a single season, and at a time when we know so many families have struggled financially due to COVID-19,” said Lifeline Executive Director Carrie Dotson.

Lifeline had anticipated a higher number of clients at VITA clinics because so many AARP tax-help sites either were closed or limited by social-distancing guidelines aimed at preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“We knew we would need to fill the gap, and we have to thank our partners at United Way of Lake County,” Dotson said. “They provided emergency funding for our VITA Program so that we could meet that increased demand this season.”

Jennifer McCarty, CEO of UWLC, said the nonprofit was thrilled to be able to support Lifeline’s program.

“We know how important this service is for so many people in our community, especially our residents of modest income,” she said. “Free tax preparation by trained volunteers alleviates stress for so many people, especially given the added stressors associated with the recent global pandemic.”

Lifeline uses volunteers trained and certified by the Internal Revenue Service through its VITA Program. According to the agency, throughout the 2021 tax season, volunteers donated 463 hours to the program.

“It is always rewarding to help taxpayers take advantage of several different tax credits, such as, the Earned Income Credit, the Child Tax and Additional Child Tax Credits and the Recovery Rebate Credit, and to get these funds into local households and ultimately our communities,” said Lifeline Program Coordinator Tiffany Menosky. “The season was not without its challenges, as we experienced a late start, and saw tax law change in the middle of the season, in addition to an extension to the end of season.”

Menosky praised Lifeline VITA volunteers for their dedication.

“They were amazing this year and were willing to meet our clients face-to-face in a very challenging time,” she said. “I cannot thank our volunteers enough for their support and enthusiasm.”

Lifeline has hosted VITA Tax clinics since 2010 and in that time has prepared filings for 1,808 residents. Over the last 12 years, volunteers have given 4,715 hours, and $2,272,357 in returns has been generated for residents of Lake and Geauga counties.

“Besides being able to provide this assistance to families and individuals struggling financially due to COVID-19, this year was also a significant one for our VITA program because it was the year we surpassed $2 million in returns generated,” Dotson said. “For a program that is completely volunteer-driven, that is an amazing amount of money brought back into our community.”

The News-Herald believes that the Lifeline VITA program plays a pivotal role in making sure that low-income families and individuals receive the assistance and advice that they need each year during tax season. Thanks to Lifeline VITA, these people are able to fulfill their tax-filing obligations and secure the refunds for which they are eligible.

Clearly, Lifeline VITA is a tremendous community asset.