The Orfalea College of Business (OCOB) cancelled the Volunteer Income Tax Program (VITA) this year due to concerns about the spread of COVID-19.
VITA was a free program where Cal Poly students helped low-income taxpayers file their taxes. VITA would host gatherings several times throughout tax season to offer their services to community members. Finance students would go through training and testing through the Federal Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to get an “advanced certification” to assist in the preparation of tax returns for low income taxpayers.
VITA served 500 to 600 low-income taxpayers from Santa Maria to Paso Robles every year. The program primarily served senior citizens, which is much of the reason for OCOB’s concern over the pandemic, Trisha Daughtry, the former program director said.
Daughtry said that in addition to helping the local community, the program offered students valuable experience.
“Students learned to interact with clients from diverse backgrounds,” she said. “They were trained on how to not just prepare tax returns, but to review for them accuracy.”
Accounting graduate student Sheri Dear said working in the program helped her professional development.
“Even though I will be working in audits and not tax services, I still found my experience in VITA crucial to my professional growth,” Dear said. “My job was to prepare their tax returns but I also found enjoyment when I got to know my clients. Being able to interact with clients and making sure they feel comfortable are skills that I will continue to grow in my professional career.”
Dear also said that the VITA tax program cancellation is “unfortunate” because some community members rely on the program to file their taxes.
Accounting graduate student Alexis Cambell said she learned more than just how to prepare taxes.
“VITA not only taught me the basics of tax return preparation, but I also learned how to interact with clients in a professional setting. I loved getting to know my clients while working in a professional, fast-paced environment,” she said.
Campbell also said the cancellation of the program will have a negative effect on the community.
“Hundreds of individuals relied on VITA for tax return preparation, and many of our clients have attended VITA for several years,” she said. “Without VITA available, members of the SLO community will have to find another source of tax return preparation.”
Anyone who needs help filing their taxes can find a list of alternative resources on the VITA program website.