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Lancaster County's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program was heading into its busiest period of the year when Gov. Tom Wolf issued his stay-at-home order in March to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

VITA swiftly adjusted, shifting to virtual operations. After the Internal Revenue Service extended the tax filing deadline to June 15, VITA established a drop-off system for clients who couldn't send their information electronically.

The changes enabled VITA to safely complete an additional 1,561 returns, for a total of 9,488. VITA's efforts saved Lancaster County taxpayers $2.6 million in preparation fees and put $12.1 million in refunds into their pockets.

Volunteers needed

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program needs volunteers for this upcoming tax season to greet clients and scan their documents, said Michelle Ingham, the United Way of Lancaster County's director of financial stability.

The position is the first point of contact for clients using VITA's drive-up appointment option. It is especially important this year because of Covid-19, Ingham said.

Volunteers will be asked to work a minimum of one four-hour shift per week from mid-January through mid-April. They will wear personal protective equipment during interactions with clients and operate according to coronavirus safety protocols.

No tax preparation experience is needed. Individuals must take a brief training course and pass the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Standards of Conduct test.

For more information or to apply, visit the United Way of Lancaster County's volunteer dashboard.

About VITA

A program of the United Way of Lancaster County, VITA offers free tax preparation to individuals making $62,000 or less. Individuals with disabilities or limited English are also eligible. All assistance is provided by IRS-certified volunteers.

Among other things, the program helps low-income clients claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, which can be worth thousands of dollars.

"It makes a practical impact and is a springboard for the future,” said Michelle Ingham, the United Way's director of financial stability.

Each year, VITA receives a grant from the Internal Revenue Service that is its biggest single source of operating revenue. This fall, it received $161,965, up 39% from last year.

That's a vote of confidence, because the grant is based upon program performance. The IRS recognized that VIT "did find a way to come back" this spring despite the pandemic, Ingham said.

Additional funding comes from Fulton Bank, the presenting sponsor, along with Ephrata National Bank and PNC Bank.

VITA will offer online virtual tax preparation again this coming tax season, Ingham said. In addition, there will be drop-off appointments on a limited basis; clients can call to schedule appointments beginning Jan. 4.

For more information, visit the VITA website.

Tim Stuhldreher