Low-income taxpayers will be able to have their 2019 returns prepared for free starting next week on Long Island, officials said Tuesday.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, pairs households whose yearly income is $56,000 or less with accountants and other trained tax preparers under the auspices of the federal Internal Revenue Service. They usually meet by appointment at public libraries and social welfare agencies.
Information about making an appointment, what documents to bring and VITA locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties may be found at www.irs.gov. The IRS began accepting individual tax returns on Monday.
More than 14,000 Long Islanders were aided last year by VITA, which started 50 years ago this year.
“It is our intention to make this a process of ease,” said Rebecca Sanin, president and CEO of the Health & Welfare Council of Long Island. The nonprofit has participated in VITA for five years.
“The need for free and reliable tax preparation has never been greater,” she said Tuesday at the council’s Huntington Station office. “The poverty rate on Long Island is the highest it’s been since 1959.”
Besides the council, Bethpage Federal Credit Union, AARP, Hofstra University and the Town of Hempstead are VITA participants.
Tairiq Portwine, a Home Depot employee, had his income taxes prepared by the council’s VITA program last year and received about $1,500 in federal and state refunds.
“That’s about half of my tuition” to attend Suffolk County Community College, he said Tuesday. “I used my refund to pay off college debt.”
Portwine, 21, of Wyandanch, urged young people to use the VITA program. “It doesn’t take much time and it’s free,” he said. “Why pay someone to do your taxes? That’s money you could use for other things.”
The Bethpage credit union has been sponsoring VITA for 17 years and has the most sites locally.
“Not only does it help community residents save money and feel confident that an experienced tax preparer is in charge, but the program also funnels refunds back into the Long Island community,” said Robert C. Suarez, an assistant vice president at the credit union who oversees its VITA participation.
Last year, local VITA participants received more than $12 million in refunds, according to IRS figures. Much of the tax savings came from the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, which benefits the poor.
Pat Edwards, a Citigroup community development vice president involved in local anti-poverty initiatives, said income tax refunds go for necessary expenses such as rent and food.
“For many folks, tax season provides a vital infusion of dollars into their households,” she said, adding one in five Long Island households are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit but may not know it.
A companion IRS program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly, or TCE, specializes in free tax help to people age 60 and older. AARP operates many TCE sites. TCE locations are available at irs.gov.