The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) is CAHS´longest running initiative. For VITA, coordinates several coalitions of community based organizations in several
cities across the state to offer free tax preparation services to low income families. CAHS works as a convener, helping our partners recruit volunteers, prepare marketing materials, seek funding, coordinate efforts with IRS and train and certify volunteers. Our objective is to help working families get their tax returns filled for free, avoiding costly for profit tax preparers.
Our VITA work has informed our policy work since the start. One of our aims is to help families that are eligible for refundable tax credits (like the Earned Income Tax Credit or the Child Tax Credit) receive the full amount. Our advocacy for a state EITC derives from our experience promoting its federal version, and seeing how effective it is.
Our VITA program is growing. During the 2012 tax season CAHS coordinated a ne
Our work with VITA is not restricted to just tax returns, however. We are working with several of our partners to incorporate asset building and financial education to the services offered by our VItwork of 47 sites that completed close to 11,000 tax returns. These filings brought $18 million back to Connecticut in tax refunds; 38% of fillers were eligible to receive the Earned Income Tax Credit. For the 2013 tax season we will be working with 53 sites; we are expecting to complete more than 12,000 tax returns. About a third of
TA sites. In others, we are also pairing tax preparation with benefit screening.
The 2014 tax season will start by the end of January - and we are still looking for volunteers. You can sign up here, if you are interested. If you want to help CAHS bring this service to more people across the state, or you want to boost our current efforts, you can also make a year end contribution to support this program. You can do it online here - it is tax deductible, and we will appreciate your support.
A story from one of our CAHS outreach staff, not for too long ago:
I used to go to the VA Hospital in West Haven, in Connecticut. The social services office is in the old wing of the building. Old dinky offices with old furniture, yellowed American Legion posters and creaky floors, were many vets go get some information about services available to them. There, I was the food stamp guy; Roger, helping people with paperwork every other Tuesday. Every time I go there was a line of vets, always punctual, waiting for me at the office door.
A few months ago, one of the guys in the line was Michael. He is a former Army corporal, just out of the service. He had come back from Afghanistan last year, and was living day to day, sometimes sleeping in a friend’s couch, sometimes on the back of his van. He had been diagnosed with severe post traumatic stress disorder, and was receiving treatment at the VA. Unfortunately, his disability claim had not come through yet, so he had nothing to eat.
Michael had a kid. Nine year old kid, actually. He was going to school in West Haven, staying with a distant relative on and off, with Michael barely being able to hide his shame in front of him. He had two meals a day in school; not much else. He tried to apply for SNAP, but he could not handle the 12 page application. He was desperate. The stress was tearing him apart. Back from war, but unable to take care of himself or his kid.
We helped him apply for SNAP. Filled the paperwork, brought it to DSS. I guess the New Haven office had a dedicated person for handling vet applications; he started receiving SNAP benefits the following week. Now he had money to put food on the table and take care of his son. He had some stability; he started getting better.
Six months later, I ran into Michael again, at the VA office. He had rented a small condo by the water, barely a week ago. He was working as a mechanic part time. He was still recovering, but he had a place to call his own. He came back just to tell us that the food stamps had saved his life.
These programs are lifelines. People’s lives depend on them. People rebuild their lives on them. Cutting SNAP means leaving people behind, and we Americans don’t leave people behind.
This program is under risk. The Republican house majority has proposed huge cuts on SNAP benefits. Without SNAP, many families will not be able to support themselves. Stories like the one above show why we need this program.
CAHS has long been one of the leading voice in Connecticut to defend SNAP, but we need your help. If you think this program is important, if you don't want to see families in need be left behind when they need help, please donate to CAHS to help us fight for this program.
You can find more information here; it is easy, and we will greatly appreciate your help. Thanks for your support.