Last week, legislation passed out of the Senate Finance Committee that would formally authorize the federal VITA grant matching program and give the IRS authority to fund VITA at up to $30 million, absent specific appropriations from Congress.
While this is only the first step in the policymaking process, it is a BIG step. And United Way played a key role in making it happen.
What does this mean?
More than 380 United Ways support free tax preparation efforts across the country, and historically, about one-third of all the federal VITA grant dollars have gone to United Ways to serve communities. The VITA grant program has been funded each year basically as a pilot program, without formal authorization. This lack of authorization has been a vulnerability for VITA funding long-term (especially in a climate of government cuts), and so it’s been a big priority for our network over the past 8 years to get the VITA grant program in statute, as well as to continue advocating for annual appropriations.
How it happened
- United Way Worldwide advocated to include VITA authorization in a moving piece of larger legislation – The Taxpayer Protection Act of 2016. We were thrilled it was included in the bipartisan bill (a big thank you to Chairman Hatch, Ranking Member Wyden and Senator Brown) and that there was language to give IRS authority to fund VITA absent specific Congressional appropriations.
- Senator Brown’s office (D-OH) approached United Way with the idea of an amendment that would raise the cap on how much the IRS could fund VITA from $15 million to $30 million.
- With firsthand knowledge of the need and effectiveness of VITA, United Way Worldwide (UWW) endorsed the amendment and worked with policy staff and CEOs from United Ways that have key Senators on the Senate Finance Committee. They took swift action to reach out to targeted tax committee staffers yesterday afternoon and this morning to build bipartisan support for the amendment. It was not a given that this amendment would pass – the behind the scenes action from United Way leaders was pivotal.
- When Senator Brown introduced the amendment, he voiced appreciation (scroll to the end of the video) for United Way’s work on VITA and the EITC and entered UWW’s letter of support into the record.
- The committee recessed shortly after the amendment was introduced and reconvened when the VITA amendment to the Taxpayer Protection Act of 2016 passed on a voice vote with bipartisan support. The bill now moves forward to the Senate Floor (timing unknown).
Our progress last week was many years in the making, but by no means is our work done.
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