Record number of residents get free tax help

By DAILY SOUND — May 14, 2010

A record number of people filed their tax returns with the help of trained volunteers through a free program offered by the Housing Authority of the City of Santa Barbara.

A total of 1,173 people participated in the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, resulting in tax refunds exceeding $1.1 million. Last year, volunteers helped file 972 returns and secured slightly more than $1 million in refunds.

“We are especially excited about the success of our VITA program this year, because we continue to exceed our expectations, despite these tough economic times,” said Frank Quezada, the housing authority’s resident services supervisor. “The resources and education we are able to provide to the community are now more important than ever.”

The program offered free tax preparation in English and Spanish to low-income families, seniors, the disabled and other community members who earned less than $49,000. In addition to seeing an increase in the number of people who participated, officials said they noted a jump in unemployment benefits and retirement account closures.

While the housing authority provided supervision, staff, space, Internet access and supplies, the Internal Revenue Service offered training, software and technical support. United Way of Santa Barbara County also provided a grant to purchase computer equipment, enabling the program to expand its services this year.

A total of 14 volunteers from several local nonprofits and businesses helped residents file their taxes through the program.