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Anti-Poverty Advocates Urge Congress to Boost Tax Assistance Programs

The Corporation for Enterprise Development is asking Congress to boost funding for free tax services to help millions of low-income tax filers. (iStockphoto)
The Corporation for Enterprise Development is asking Congress to boost funding for free tax services to help millions of low-income tax filers. (iStockphoto)
March 16, 2016

BISMARCK, N.D. - Anti-poverty advocates are urging Congress to renew a free national tax-preparation service, which the advocates say helps millions of low-income taxpayers, including thousands in North Dakota.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, or VITA, has been around for 45 years. The program mainly helps taxpayers who make less than $54,000 dollars a year, people with disabilities and those who speak limited English. Even though the program got a $3 million boost for the current fiscal year, said David Newville, director of government affairs for the Corporation for Enterprise Development, demand for VITA has risen about 280 percent since 2003.

"The total federal refund amount through the VITA program in North Dakota was just under $10.5 million in 2015," he said, "and there are just under 8,000 federal returns that were filed through VITA."

Newville said his group is urging lawmakers to increase VITA's funding to about $30 million, up from $15 million this year. Advocates argue it would help meet the rising demand by helping more than 2.5 million additional low- and moderate-income taxpayers.

According to the North Dakota Tax Commissioner's website, the state has more than 40 free VITA program and AARP Tax Aide sites. The Corporation for Enterprise Development has reported that the VITA program helps many low-income filers get access to the Earned Income Tax Credit. However, Newville said, up to 20 percent do not know they qualify for the tax break.

"It's connecting people with all these other services, which can really help them shore up their financial lives," he said, "and not only help them get the tax refund and help them pay their bills and do all these things, but help them get ahead in the long run, really manage their money better and get involved in savings."

Nationally, more than 5,000 VITA program sites help about 2 million people file their taxes each year.

Brandon Campbell, Public News Service - ND