Two Services from the United Way: 2-1-1 Helpline and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
The United Way is doing a lot in our community and wanted to share some of it with us. We talked to Kassandra Flores, Community Coordinator and 2-1-1 Helpline Coordinator to learn more: about the 2-1-1 Helpline and Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) programs!
We wanted to celebrate this month with the Helpline for two reasons! This month, February 11, is their ten-year anniversary! Also, they are launching a new portal: Kinship, as a resource for foster families that same day, 2020!
We appreciate our foster families and want to provide them with all the support we can.
If you’re not familiar with the 2-1-1 Helpline, it is a vital resource in Santa Cruz County, especially for people facing housing or food insecurity, legal issues, or any challenges that can face us in economically stressful times and with our high cost of living here. 2-1-1 operates as a call center, website, and even a contact people can send texts for advice, by texting their zipcode to 898-211. The Helpline is popular among social service agencies, which often use it to make and receive referrals. The Helpline contracts with remote translators in about 30 languages, a service which local police have used on occasion to help communicate with our diverse citizenry (English and Spanish are available locally). Whether you are looking for help for yourself or someone you have encountered through work or socially, 2-1-1 takes calls and makes referrals to human services agencies. Some of their most frequently asked questions pertain to: Housing, Food/Meals, Utility Assistance, Legal Consumer & Public Safety Services, Mental Health & Addiction services, Healthcare, Individual Family & Community Support, Income Support/Assistance, Clothing/Personal & Household Needs, Employment, Transportation, and Information Services. They are also available for post-incarceration re-entry services.
They took over 800 inquiries from Santa Cruz County in the last quarter of 2019 and could do many more.
Santa Cruz County shares a call center in San Benito with Monterey County, so there are no regular volunteer opportunities in this county, but Kassandra at (831) 465-2201 does need volunteers to be available in the event of an emergency! Call her for more information on training to be an emergency call center representative!
Also, vitally as we embark on tax season, the United Way works in collaboration with SCOUT and the IRS to bring us Volunteer Income Tax Assistance! SCOUT stands for Senior Citizen OUTreach. They continue to accept volunteers throughout the tax season, starting their program on February 1 and continuing all the way until April 15, so if you think you may want to get certified as a greeter or even as a volunteer tax preparer through the Internal Revenue Service (federal) and Franchise Tax Board (California), you could still make a difference for the 2019 tax year.
Did you know the most successful social welfare program in U.S. history is probably The Earned Income Tax Credit? It's true! But almost one fifth of Americans who deserve the EITC don't file for it! This is where the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program comes in. Since 1971, VITA has been helping lower income Americans and people working in America to file their taxes and claim their eligible tax benefits, including the EITC and the Child Tax Credit. You can learn to be a volunteer tax preparer and help working families get all available credits.
If preparing taxes sounds difficult, relax! Today's software programs make it much easier. If you can learn some rules and use a windows program, you can probably do it! Free tax sites offer lots of support from site coordinators as well as the IRS handbook and website. Every return that is filed gets a Quality Review from an advanced level tax preparer as well, so you can make sure that every return you prepared is verified by another person.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance is available for people who made under $56,000 in 2019. But don’t worry! If you made under $66,000, you are still eligible to file your taxes for free by going to myfreetaxes.com.
Santa Cruz County is home to multiple tax sites, in Aptos, Watsonville, Live Oak, and Santa Cruz. Check here to sign up and find out where you can be of service!