2024 Statewide Taxes Meeting Celebrates Successes and Increases Collaboration and Learning - United Ways of California

2024 Statewide Taxes Meeting Celebrates Successes and Increases Collaboration and Learning

Sunday, June 30, 2024

Read time: 5 minutes

United Ways of California’s 2024 Statewide Taxes Meeting brought together 60 representatives from 32 local United Ways and partner organizations from across the state who are working on free tax prep and tax education and outreach to help more Californians access the tax credits they’re entitled to. The annual meeting provides attendees with space to provide feedback, brainstorm, reflect on the past tax season, and start planning for the upcoming year. The opportunity for community dialogue with United Ways of California and with each other is invaluable. 

This year, the collective discussed:

  • How we increased capacity and impact through creative strategies and alternative free filing methods
  • Reasons and ways to leverage and improve the “virtual with help” free tax prep option next year
  • How to build internal capacity as well as recruit and engage volunteers and staff
  • Ways to improve administrative processes
  • Strategies to enhance outreach to and engagement with people eligible for Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers (ITINs) and current ITIN holders
  • And more!

Most importantly, attendees built relationships with each other that will help them tap into colleagues and collective knowledge throughout the year. 

This year, our tax network helped file about 30,000 tax returns for free! Not only did this help them save money on their taxes, but it helped Californians access tax credits, putting cash directly in their pockets. Our partners are able to help more eligible Californians and support more Californians with the greatest needs because of creative solutions, collaboration, and capacity support from the network.

Learning from Creative Solutions

The United Ways of California free tax help network has engaged in numerous creative solutions across the state to engage filers and increase capacity over the past year. Just a few examples:

  • United Way of Ventura County partnered with organizations like the Anti-Recidivism Coalition and the California Conservation Corps to provide tax education programming and self-filing workshops for Californians who were recently incarcerated. Other partners are hosting similar workshops and self-filing events for target populations, including foster youth eligible for the Foster Youth Tax Credit.
  • United Way of Stanislaus County worked with a local teacher to engage high school students as Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) volunteers, and several United Ways engaged college students as VITA volunteers.
  • Koreatown Youth Community Center is working with labor unions so that union employees understand the benefits of filing taxes, how to file, and how to maximize their refund.
  • Local United Ways engaged community members who couldn’t get to in-person VITA sites by using them as volunteers to support their “virtual with help” filing option for their community.

Meeting attendees loved sharing and hearing about these creative solutions and learnings from their implementation, and many expressed interest in exploring similar activities in their communities this year.

The Impact of Free Tax Prep and Education and Outreach

A convening of our tax partners would not be complete without acknowledging the impact of this work through data and stories. Just a few of many highlights shared throughout the meeting:

  • In 2022-2023, this network processed 125% more ITIN applications than the previous year. While this year’s numbers are still in process, anecdotal evidence and preliminary numbers show that we continued to support large numbers of ITIN applicants and filers again this year.
  • Most of our free tax prep clients are using their tax refunds for necessities: 29% are paying bills, 20% are paying debt and back taxes, and 16% are buying household items. Plus, 13% are saving that money for future needs.
  • Damarys Perez, a community member working with OneLA, shared that after receiving tax refunds thanks to the California Earned Income Tax Credit (CalEITC), ITIN filers she knows bought medications they couldn’t previously afford, cars that served as more reliable transportation, and even, in one young man’s case, equipment for a business so that he can now be more self-sufficient. 
  • Koreatown Youth Community Center was able to support a group of human trafficking survivors in getting ITINs to help them get a fresh new start and rebuild.
  • United Way of Ventura County used a VITA bus—a mobile tax prep center—to complete 30 returns in one day for tax filers in rural parts of their county who weren’t able to get to in-person sites due to location or lack of transportation.
  • In San Diego, a single mom hadn’t been claiming her disabled son when filing her taxes with a paid preparer. Working with United Ways of California partner Dreams for Change, Pam filed three years of amended returns to appropriately claim her son, and she received a refund of more than $8,500 that was rightfully hers.
  • Orange County United Way supported filing 65 tax returns claiming the Foster Youth Tax Credit. 
  • United Way of Merced County has supported more than 100 ITIN applicants in the past year, including a family of three who had been missing out on tax credits they would have been eligible for because the paid provider was going to charge $1,100 just to file the ITIN applications; the tax preparation return that would be required to go with it would cost even more. United Way of Merced County did the ITIN applications and tax returns all for free, and the family can now receive the tax credits they deserve.

While we have seen increases in tax returns and ITIN applications submitted, the impact of this amazing network can’t always be quantified. To United Ways of California and our partners, this work isn’t about just filing tax returns or telling people about free tax prep and credits they may be eligible for; it’s about a deep commitment to the community and doing right by our community members, particularly those who are most vulnerable. 

Capacity Building Made Possible by the California Legislature

This meeting, which helps build free tax prep partner capacity and make free tax prep more efficient across the state, is made possible by state funding for tax education and outreach. 

Free Tax Preparation Assistance and Education and Outreach program funding play an essential role in the overall health and financial wellbeing of Californians. By providing state funding to trusted local organizations like United Ways of California, we can continue to focus our efforts on increasing partner capacity so that local organizations can do the important task of reaching and serving community members.

In the 2024-2025 state budget, funding for free tax preparation, including education and outreach and ITIN application support, is $10 million less than it has been over the past two years. As we’ve shared throughout the year, this cut will significantly impact the work of organizations like those detailed above and their ability to serve more people with greater need. United Ways of California will continue advocating to restore $20 million in annual, ongoing funding for Free Tax Preparation Assistance and Outreach & Education programs for the 2025-26 budget and beyond.

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