Getting help with taxes shouldn't be a struggle, so for more than a decade United Way of Greater Los Angeles has been raising awareness around Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA). Through the Free Tax Prep LA program United Way of Greater Los Angeles and its partners work to educate low-income Angelenos about the broad range of tax credits that can help support them and their families and bring millions of dollars back to our communities through federal and state refunds.
To reach families throughout the county, United Way of Greater Los Angeles partners with trusted community-based organizations such as Mexican American Opportunity Foundation (MAOF). “United Way and MAOF have a long standing relationship,” said Brissa Sanchez, Special Projects Coordinator at Mexican American Opportunity Foundation.
“Mexican American Opportunity Foundation’s mission has always been to support its community by offering services that improve their socio-economic status,” said Brissa. “With VITA, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation has been offering free tax preparation service for more than 20 years, helping thousands of families and individuals each year by avoiding the often-expensive fees outside tax preparers charge the community.”
Students Serve Their Communities
Throughout the past two years, United Way of Greater Los Angeles has taken this work even further to help identify, secure and provide stipends to Los Angeles City College (LACC) student volunteers who can then be trained to help with tax season. The program focuses on recruiting first-generation students, DREAMers, and multilingual volunteers to help serve diverse populations throughout the region. For 2021, United Way of Greater Los Angeles secured 17 student volunteers at nine VITA sites. To date, these students have performed over 400 hours of volunteer work.
“United Way helped us tremendously in referring Jimmy Ochoa. Jimmy was always ready to jump into any given task and his enthusiasm to learn and serve his community was infectious,” Brissa said. “He helped facilitate our intake process during our drive-through tax appointment events, and he was flexible in assisting with other areas as needed.”
Earlier this year, Jimmy received an email from Los Angeles City College about the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance opportunity—a serendipitous situation for Jimmy, who was looking for volunteer work and had an interest in tax services.
“I just wanted some experience. I wasn’t worried about pay. I was even okay with volunteering just to get experience. And when I got that email from my school, I thought it was a sign,” Jimmy said.
A full time student with a full time job, Jimmy wasn’t sure if he would be able to handle the workload. But he wanted to push himself.
“I’m helping. It’s super rewarding. I don’t really see it as work because I felt the impact the Mexican American Opportunity Foundation team does for the community,” Jimmy remarked. “For me personally, it's a wonderful experience that allows me to give back to my community. And I get to build and expand my skill set in the process.”
Mexican American Opportunity Foundation’s VITA services have a huge impact on the local community by helping one family at a time.
So far this year, Mexican American Opportunity Foundation helped clients obtain more than $1,440,000 in federal refunds and $275,152 in state refunds. The total amount of Earned Income Credit received was nearly $436,000, $77,510 for the CalEITC, and $237,070 for the Young Child Tax Credit.
Here are some stories from people who have benefited from Mexican American Opportunity Foundation’s VITA services:
Ana has been a tax client with Mexican American Opportunity Foundation for over three years. Her state refunds have usually been under $150. This year, a change in California tax law permitted holders of an ITIN (an identification for immigrants who lack Social Security numbers) to qualify for the CalEITC and the Young Child Tax Credit. Ana received more than $1000 back for her state refund. Ana was happy to know she qualifies for these credits and will be using that refund to help pay her bills.
Cesar and Martha
Cesar and Martha were happy to learn that they qualified for the Young Child Tax Credit and the CalEITC. They have three young children and could not receive either credit last year as holders of ITIN numbers. For tax year 2019, they did not receive any state refund. For tax year 2020, they received $1,061.
Ann was unemployed for 2 years before starting work in 2020. She was able to find a job through Mexican American Opportunity Foundation and now able to file her taxes. She qualified for the CalEITC ($101) and has expressed immense gratitude for the help Mexican American Opportunity Foundation has provided.