LONGMONT, COLORADO — Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites are a useful tool for providing free tax-preparation services to low- and moderate-income people and helping them claim a range of valuable tax credits, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), according to a report just released by First Nations Development Institute (First Nations), a national nonprofit organization that helps build and revitalize Native American communities.
The report, titled “VITA Sites Serving Native Communities: The State of the Field,” presents some recent data on Native VITA sites. For example, in 2013, 145 unique VITA sites serving Indian country filed a total of 48,413 tax returns, facilitated $70,058,032 in refunds, and helped people claim approximately $26,030,000 in EITC. Furthermore, it is estimated that these 145 sites saved Native American filers $7,261,950 in preparation fees alone, based on an estimate of $150 in fees per filer.
These 145 VITA sites are hosted by a range of organizational sponsors, including tribal administrations, Native nonprofits, tribal housing authorities, tribal colleges and urban Indian centers. One of the largest organizational sponsors is tribal administration, demonstrating that many tribal governments see value in offering VITA services to their members. In addition, housing authorities, Native community development financial institutions (CDFIs), and Native nonprofits are also likely to offer VITA services. A large number of non-Native organizations, or 39, also provided VITA services in Native communities in 2013.
The field appears to be growing slowly, but since 2009 there has been a decline in the number of tribal governments, tribal colleges, and tribal housing authorities that offer the VITA program. In addition, although new sites were added in 2013, some others closed their doors when their activities could not be sustained. There is still a need for significant investment in Native-run VITA sites to help support their continuation and growth.
Data from several of First Nations’ recent Native VITA site grantees reveal the tremendous impact these programs can have in Native communities. In 2013 the Northwest Native Development Fund, serving the Colville Indian Reservation and Spokane Indian Reservation, filed 209 returns and saved clients an estimated $52,250 total in fees. Similarly, Chief Dull Knife College (serving the Northern Cheyenne Indian Reservation), prepared more than 500 tax returns in 2013 and returned over $1.1 million dollars to the community.
“We see great value in VITA programs that help low-income taxpayers free file their taxes in and around Native communities,” said First Nations President Michael E. Roberts. “We are proud to have supported seven VITA programs in Indian Country last year, and hope to continue to support the growth of this field.”