Good evening, everyone.
Ah, springtime: when a young man’s fancy turns to tax preparation! Despite Benjamin Franklin’s observation that “nothing is certain except death and taxes,” polls indicate that about 70% of American adults fear the process of preparing their returns. It’s easy to understand that fear when you consider that we collectively spend an estimated 2.6 billion hours per year working on our taxes – the job is big and complex, with lots of opportunities for costly mistakes.
With these worries in mind, the IRS created the VITA grant program, which stands for “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.” For over 50 years, this initiative has offered free tax preparation assistance for the people who need it the most, such as low-income, elderly, disabled, and limited English-speaking taxpayers. The IRS partners with local non-profit organizations to provide this assistance throughout the country. In the Valley, non-profits such as the the City of Phoenix, the United Way, New Leaf, and Masters of Coin are VITA partners: together, they provide the funding to help at-need taxpayers with this important service.
Now, that funding is a necessary piece of the puzzle, but actually preparing the taxes requires additional resources, and that’s where the Maricopa colleges enter the equation. For over a decade we have provided the venues where this free tax preparation occurs, with space donated by Estrella Mountain, Gateway, Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Phoenix, and South Mountain. Additionally, Maricopa faculty have given their time and expertise to help fulfill VITA’s mission locally, training the volunteers needed to get the work done. To be clear, we’re talking about a LOT of work: every year, the local volunteers prepare the tax forms for tens of thousands of community taxpayers, securing millions of dollars of refunds for our county’s neediest members. Our community owes a debt of gratitude to professors Lynn Clark, Vanessa Logan, Doug Northway, Mark Sassetti, Kortney Song, Annette Torrey, and Bill Wyngaard, along with retired professor Jim Simpson, for generously providing their time and expertise to make this project happen.
The program works. It’s straightforward. It’s effective. It’s good. Of course, for Maricopa faculty, “good” just isn’t good enough. Sure, VITA serves community members by handling their taxes, but what about the other side of the equation? The faculty involved with the program realized that we could squeeze even more benefit out of it by expanding the preparer training into a full-blown educational path. So, our faculty took the program to the next level. Working through the instructional councils, they created a related certificate program where the training taken to become volunteers (combined with the experience they gain from voluntarily preparing tax returns) would get students ready to take the IRS’s Enrolled Agent Examination, which would then launch them into a lucrative career in the field of tax preparation. So now, in addition to helping tens of thousands of community members navigate the often overwhelming and frightening task of tax preparation, we’re simultaneously creating new high-paying career opportunities for the student volunteers on the other side of the desk. In the business community, that’s what’s known as a “win-win.”
Thank you for your time.