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VITA makes tax filing easy and accessible for refugee families

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Remember the first time you filed taxes? Maybe you filed online or had your parents help you. For many first-time tax filers, navigating the system can be challenging and expensive for low-income households. Luckily, there is help for individuals and families who are uncertain of the process and unfamiliar with the language.

In its second year running, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Salt Lake City’s economic wellbeing program offered tax filling assistance, intended for recently resettled refugees and other new Americans, through the  Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.  

 

Volunteers at the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City helped refugees and new Americans file taxes through VITA clinics
“There are a number of clinics throughout the community, but none of them had been specifically targeted for our refugee and immigrant populations,” Shauna La Beau, financial coach at the IRC in Salt Lake City, explains. Photo: Maggie McCormick/IRC

VITA, a service run through the IRS, provides free tax help to people of low- to moderate-income, or people with limited English abilities, who need assistance in preparing tax returns. Through 13 clinics held at the Microbusiness Connection Center—about twice a week from February until Tax Day—a team of 13 volunteers and two IRC staff helped file over 185 tax returns—saving each individual or family between $150 and $250 per return.

“There are a number of clinics throughout the community, but none of them had been specifically targeted for our refugee and immigrant populations,” Shauna La Beau, financial coach at the IRC in Salt Lake City, explains. After seeing the refugee population being taken advantage of during tax season—with unqualified individuals assisting them with filing and taking their refunds or filing improperly—the IRC in Salt Lake City took action. “When we saw that need, we realized we should reach out and do a VITA clinic.”

Volunteers at the VITA clinic are certified through the IRS—completing eight hours of training and passing an exam. Jana Richardson began volunteering with the IRC’s VITA tax clinic when it opened in 2018. “I think that it is a really good resource for the IRC clients. Otherwise, they will go to a lot of different places to get their taxes done and those places charge them a lot of money and don’t explain what they’re doing. It just seems like it gets really confusing and expensive and sometimes they don’t do their taxes right. Here, everyone is trained and knows what they’re doing. It’s a good way for people to get their taxes done correctly.”

Refugees and immigrants access free tax services through the International Rescue Committee in Salt Lake City's VITA clinics
Certified volunteers and IRC staff run free VITA tax clinics intended for refugee and immigrant populations, helping them navigate the tax system. Photo: Maggie McCormick/IRC

Attendance at the IRC’s VITA site increased significantly this year, “We’ve seen attendance just skyrocket,” Shauna notes. Last year, the IRC team helped file just over 130 tax returns. This year, even while offering fewer clinic hours, they have filed more than 185. Language barriers were mitigated as interpretation services were offered on certain days in French, Arabic, Farsi, and Kiswahili. Phone interpretation was available on an as-needed basis.

Shauna and the economic wellbeing team is already planning for next year’s VITA tax clinics, hoping to expand and help even more refugee and new American community members navigate the tax system in the U.S.

Learn how you can help refugees and new Americans positively integrate into our community by volunteering to support our programs! Visit Rescue.org/VolunteerSLC for a list of high-need volunteer opportunities.