The Boston Tax Help Coalition (BTHC) kicked off its 20th tax season on Jan. 28, again offering free tax preparation services to city residents earning $60,000 or less a year.
Mayor Michelle Wu made the announcement four days into the country’s tax season. The deadline for filing taxes in Massachusetts is April 19.
“Boston residents can save hundreds of dollars per household with free tax preparation from the Boston Tax Help Coalition,” Wu said in a press release. “These free resources are not only a valuable resource for thousands of Boston residents, but serve as a model for similar programs across the country.”
Sharon Scott-Chandler, executive vice president of Action for Boston Community Development (ABCD), one of the coalition’s largest nonprofit partners, said working with tax codes is difficult for everyone. .
“Most people with resources can pay someone to do this to find my credits, or make sure I pay enough or not enough or whatever,” Scott-Chandler said. “Low-income people without resources don’t have that access.”
The BTHC was originally called the Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition (EITC) when it was founded in 2001. The EITC is a refundable federal credit for low-wage workers.
According to Mimi Turchinetz, coalition director for the BTHC, this year marked the beginning of a “movement for tax fairness”.
However, according to the press release, IRS data suggests that 20% of eligible taxpayers do not receive the EITC credit, which in Boston amounts to $10 million in unclaimed refunds.
“Our analysis was that we were leaving $10 million of earned income credit on the table,” Turchinetz said. “And we knew, both instinctively and from early research, that the EITC was a major tool in the fight against poverty, and that too many people weren’t getting it.”
Turchinetz said the BTHC and a number of similar programs across the country helped create the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, which is distributed by the IRS and provides funding. for many of BTHC’s vital resources – such as training volunteers on the tax code and tax assistance and running awareness campaigns.
Since the start of the pandemic, many of the support services offered by the coalition have been carried out virtually or in a hybrid format, which has brought new challenges, Turchinetz said.
“We serve the most vulnerable people, many of whom experience a significant digital divide,” Turchinetz said. “They are not comfortable with digital tools. They don’t want to use them. So they will come and file, but filing is not the same as walking into a place of taxation and sitting down with someone.
Turchinetz added that the nearly 40 drop sites operated by the coalition in 2021 fell to 24 this year.
Participation in seeking tax assistance has also declined during the pandemic. Scott-Chandler said ABCD alone filed about 2,500 tax returns last year. Before COVID, “we were probably doing double that amount,” she said.
Although inconclusive, Turchinetz said the change in participation could be largely due to people losing their jobs and therefore not filing EITC returns or applications.
Scott-Chandler said the coalition’s goal is to help people get what they are entitled to.
“This [coalition] It’s not about giving someone something they don’t deserve and that’s not in the tax code,” Scott-Chandler said. “It’s about making sure people know they have the ability to get [tax credits]then help them get it.
Scott-Chandler added that they are doing everything they can to “spread the word” about the program this year.
“[The BTHC] helps families who are struggling to repay a debt, repair a car, pay a bill. It’s a quality of life that adds to the lives of low-income, struggling, and working families every year, and it’s amazing.