Every year for the past eight years, the City of Santa Barbara’s Housing Authority has helped low-income families prepare and file their income tax returns. This year the organization will also educate community members about how the recently-faltered economy will impact their filings.
According to the Housing Authority, the city — because of the recent increase in unemployment and associated benefit claims — has seen a surge of lost wages, early withdrawals from retirement plans, and case after case of local taxpayers falling prey to the hidden costs of rapid return services.
To help mitigate these specific issues, and alleviate the anxiety that surrounds every tax season, the Housing Authority has opened its free income-tax preparation centers to anybody with earnings under $49,000—individuals, households, families, seniors, the disabled and handicapped. The effort is through the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program. For a complete list of locations throughout Santa Barbara County, click here.
“This year, more than ever, we feel the VITA program is a critical service (for those who qualify) to prepare for tax season,” said Frank Quezada, Resident Services Supervisor for the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara. In 2009, the Housing Authority assisted over 1,000 people, resulting in record-level refunds totaling $1,028,453, the highest total ever in the history of the Housing Authority’s VITA program. “We also continue to make it a priority to educate taxpayers to make sure they are receiving the tax benefits they are entitled to, but also about the potential consequences of choices they make during this tax year, especially in relation to the effects of the economy on jobs and incomes,” said Quezada.
This year, there are 23 trained volunteer tax preparers from local nonprofits and businesses including Santa Barbara Bank & Trust, Women’s Economic Ventures (WEV), Santa Barbara City College, Housing Authority residents, and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The United Way of Santa Barbara County has also provided the Housing Authority with a grant to purchase additional computer equipment.