Free tax help program receives mixed reviews

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, being held in Ritter Hall until April, is working to accommodate a high volume of participants.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, being held in Ritter Hall until April, is working to accommodate a high volume of participants.

On the evening of Feb. 4, Nettie Kennedy, 49, sat patiently waiting for her name to be announced by one of the volunteers in Ritter Hall. She visited two sites during the past three years for free tax consultation, but this was her first stop at the Main Campus location.

The site she typically visits is not offering the program this year, leading her to Temple. Nevertheless, she said she is not impressed with the services being offered.

The Internal Revenue Service’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, in collaboration with the Campaign for Working Families, has been offered at Temple for the past few years. In addition to the Main Campus site, the program is offered at the Ambler and Harrisburg campuses, along with other locations throughout Philadelphia.

The money-saving program allows families with incomes of $50,000 or less or individuals with personal incomes of $20,000 or less to receive help free of charge from certified tax preparers when filing their taxes. Eleven IRS-certified tax preparers operate the Main Campus site on the fifth floor of Ritter Hall Annex, along with a number of other volunteers who help participants explore eligibility for public benefits.

The Main Campus site is open for services Tuesdays and Thursdays at 5 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., until April 10.

At 5 p.m. last Thursday, tax preparers began assisting participants – starting with a few who remained from Tuesday’s session – as dozens of people simultaneously jotted down their information onto blue forms and waited for their names to be announced.

Kennedy attended for services three times this week, her first two attempts ending unsuccessfully.

“This is my fourth year with them [VITA], and I’ve been here twice already [on Saturday and Tuesday],” Kennedy said, occasionally glancing up at the door of Room 575, where consultations took place.

Some participants were served by volunteers, while others were turned away.

Despite arriving to the site prior to start time, program workers turned several attendees looking for service away by 4:45 p.m. because the maximum limit was reached quickly.

“By 5 o’clock, we can’t accept more people than we can service,” Shirley Moy, associate director of the Center for Social Policy and Community Development, said. “We’re meeting the needs of the community. It’s evident by the number of people coming.”

Moy estimated that approximately 30 to 40 participants and families are served per session, with Saturdays’ numbers at around 60.

Though the Campaign for Working Families advertises the program to the community and distributes brochures around the city having put brochures around the city, many of the people seeking tax services used VITA in previous years and learned of the Main Campus location via mail notifications.

For those who signed up before the sessions reached capacity, waiting times weren’t the only issue. Many participants said the experience was disorganized and under-resourced.

Many of those community members who were able to complete their taxes expressed relief.

“I’m glad that I was in and out, and the service was good,” Anteanya Graves, 18, said. Graves arrived at the site at 3 p.m. to ensure a quick process, he added. He left around 7:15 p.m.

Even Kennedy, who described her previous experiences with VITA as less efficient, agreed that the program is valuable.

“It’s a good program because it’s free,” she said.

Other tax-preparation companies can be costly, taking a percentage of the final tax refund as compensation for their service.

“All the refund goes back to [the participants] in the program,” Moy said.

Angelo Fichera can be reached at

1 Comment

  1. This is in response to the Feb. 9th article regarding the Temple VITA site. The site is managed by The Campaign for Working Families and this is the first year that the site has actually been located in the heart of Temple’s campus. We are fortunate to have the support of Shirley Moy, Associate Director for the Center for Social Policy and Community Development, as well as the Temple students and community at the tax site. The Campaign manages ten other free tax preparation sites in Philadelphia that are open to the public. We prepare taxes, encourage savings opportunities, and for the first time now offer customers assistance in applying for FAFSA and other benefit programs. Unfortunately, in early February and the last two weeks of the tax season there is more demand for our services than we can handle. We are forced to turn away potential customers or some of our customers wait for hours for service. All of the tax preparers at our sites volunteer their time, and spend hours preparing and passing the IRS tax certification test. With their time and support, we save our customers thousands of dollars in tax preparation fees and they often receive significant refunds in the thousands of dollars. Our volunteers get the satisfaction of knowing that their time and effort has allowed them to enrich the lives of others and to make The Campaign for Working Families’ Philadelphia VITA program a reality.

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