Last year, Norwescap Volunteer Income Tax Assistants (VITA) processed 1,900 tax returns for members of the community. This brought back $2.3 million for residents in Warren, Sussex and Morris counties.
The VITA initiative is funded by the Internal Revenue Service and supports a unique partnership between Norwescap and the United Way of Northern New Jersey.
The program offers free tax help for low- to moderate-income individuals and families, including young adults, adults, senior citizens, persons with disabilities, and those with limited English.
On average, 3,000 individuals come to Norwescap for assistance with their tax returns each year.
Sue Warga, outreach specialist of Norwescap’s Retired Seniors Volunteer Program, said, “We serve the underserved. We get more money into the client’s pocket than they could ever expect.”
Qualified applicants may sign up for free tax-return preparations with a Norwescap VITA through April 19.
Norwescap recruits VITA volunteers throughout the year. There are 60 volunteers in Warren, Sussex and Morris counties who prepare returns for the community. Norwescap hopes to add 10 more for the next tax season.
Marilyn Brooks-Lewis has been giving her time and skills for the past seven years as a VITA with an Advanced Tax Law Certification. The accounting and business teacher at Warren Community College has been volunteering since she received a grant that covered all her college costs, including books and board.
Tamara Lopez, an AmeriCorps member and engagement partner at Norwescap, is giving each Friday to help at the Phillipsburg VITA location. In the first hour, she assisted seven participants.
“They are happy to get the help, that people are here for them and that the service is free. I watch them come in with their tax questions and worries but leave very relaxed and confident that it’s in good hands now.”
How program works
Clients must be vaccinated; be a resident of Warren, Sussex or Morris counties; and have an annual income of $60,000 or less for someone filing singly.
Income limits are based on federal guidelines that may change from year to year.
VITA volunteers meet with residents to prepare their returns. Meetings vary in length but average about an hour.
Norwescap has two locations in Sussex County, four in Warren County and eight in Morris County. Virtual video conferences are available if needed.
The completed tax returns will be reviewed by the client and the preparer, with a final quality review conducted by a senior preparer. If the client approves, they sign a form acknowledging their responsibility for any taxes owed, and the form is e-filed.
Volunteers also can help senior citizens with a little-known program called Senior Tax Freeze (Property Tax Reimbursement). The Senior Tax Freeze is a program in New Jersey that helps eligible senior citizens keep their property taxes at a certain level.
If the senior’s income stays the same or decreases and their property taxes increase, the program provides reimbursement for the difference.
To be eligible, the senior must be at least 65 years old, have lived in their home for at least the past two years and have a maximum income of $91,505 for the year 2021. The program is designed to provide financial relief for seniors who may be on a fixed income and struggling to afford increasing property taxes.
For those interested in becoming a VITA, contact the program’s director, Lanet Rivera, at 973-784-4900 ext. 2908 or firstname.lastname@example.org