RD504 - Report on the Virginia Community Action Partnership Earned Income Tax Credit Initiative Virginia CASH Campaign - December 1, 2016

Executive Summary:

The Virginia CASH Campaign continued to offer quality free tax preparation services across the Commonwealth of Virginia to over 36,000 taxpayers from January-April 2016. This year 25 coalitions working with community volunteers received funding from the Earned Income Tax Credit grant. VACAP distributes 100% of the funding to the coalitions. The Virginia CASH Campaign highlights include:

• Almost $39 million in federal refunds
o Over 36,000 federal returns filed

• Over $13 million in EITC refunds
o Over 8,700 taxpayers claiming EITC
o $7.2 million saved in tax preparation fees

• Over $5.5 million in state refunds
o Over 29,000 state returns filed

Compared to 2014 tax year, this represents:
• 12 % increase in number of returns filed
• 6 % increase in amount of federal refunds
• 13% increase in number of state returns filed

The modest state-funded $185,725 EITC Grant program (average grant $7,400) resulted in over 1,200 volunteers working with 25 coalitions to provide free tax preparation and financial education services at 133 sites throughout Virginia. Many coalitions continue to partner with Affordable Health Care Navigators to assist consumers with making smart health insurance choices and correct filing of income tax returns. More coalitions are offering Facilitated Self-Assistance which allows clients to file their own taxes where help is available if needed. The Independent Sector estimates the 2015 value of volunteer time to be $26.09 per hour. The Virginia CASH Campaign volunteers contributed over 43,000 hours of tax preparation to the program. An additional 13,000 hours were contributed for tax training. This equates to over $1.4 million value to the program and communities where these volunteers live and work. Grant funds leverage over six times the amount in volunteer time.

The Virginia Community Action Partnership (VACAP) EITC Initiative supports community groups and coalitions throughout Virginia that provide free tax preparation services and promote financial stability, savings and asset building to modest income working individuals and families. Many coalitions provide free financial education programs. The Virginia CASH Campaign (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) gives the program an identity that is used by the coalitions to engage community partners in their work.

In October 2015, VACAP co-hosted The Common Cents Conference with Maryland CASH in Arlington, Virginia. The one-day conference brought together over 150 free tax program practitioners to learn about pending changes in the tax laws, implications of the Affordable Care Act, and financial stability tools and resources. We were honored to have Representative Donald Beyer and Arlington County Board member Walter Tejada as speakers to the fifth Common Cents Conference and the first to be held in Virginia.

The EITC grant was announced at Common Cents and completed proposals were due at the VACAP office by November 10, 2015. Twenty-four grant recipients were notified of successful proposals on November 24, 2015 and funds were disbursed by December 4, 2015. Each coalition submitted a budget and plan as to how the grant funds were to be used throughout the year. The largest funding allocation is for personnel costs (56%).

Coalition costs for printing and supplies and equipment for marketing, education and outreach materials totaled 13% of the total budget. Advertising was about 7% of the total. Travel to meetings and conferences totaled about 6%. Eleven percent was spent on volunteer recruitment, management and training and recognition. Other smaller amounts were used for rent, telephone and administration costs.

VACAP maintains a website dedicated to the CASH Campaign. www.vaeitc.org provides timely information to EITC partners, clients and funders throughout the year, but especially during tax filing season. Coalition information, data, flyers, asset building links, news articles, PSAs and funding resource information are readily available for viewing and download. This key component links all coalitions and assists in communication and sharing best practices. Between December 2015 and April 2016, the site averaged 1,651 page views per month with an average of 1,113 visits per month. During the same time frame the site averaged 664 unique visitors per month. VACAP encourages its coalition members to share tools and resources, enabling them to work more efficiently and serve more clients.

Keeping taxpayers compliant is one of Virginia CASH’s most important functions. If a taxpayer gets into trouble with the IRS or state department of revenue, all other efforts to help improve their financial situation are destined to fail.