Every Penny Counts

Child Tax Credit and VITA Help Families

by Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director – United Way of Charlotte County

In the book “You’re Broke Because You Want to Be”, author Larry Winget states that even though he is financially secure he will always pick up a penny on the sidewalk.

Winget explains, “Picking up the penny is a reminder to me that money is important…I know that picking up a penny won’t make me rich. But after picking it up, I will have more money than I had before I picked it up, and that is the overall direction I want to be moving in at all times.” 

For some families in our community, the advance Child Tax Credit feels like that extra penny in the bank. It certainly hasn’t made anyone rich, but these families now have more money than they had before.

The Child Tax Credit, which was increased in March through the American Rescue Plan Act, will have its final advance payment disbursed on December 15. The monthly advance payments that began in July 2021 were used by many families to help pay for their basic living expenses such as rent or mortgage payments, food and childcare. Others used the funds to pay down debt or cover health care expenses.  

A national survey was conducted through the Census Bureau to assess the use and impact of these payments. Of those surveyed, about 47% reported spending the funds they received on food. The impact amounted to a 3 percentage point decline for households with children experiencing food insufficiency after just the first Child Tax Credit payment. As the saying goes, every penny counts.

But for families who live paycheck to paycheck and have relied on these payments to keep food in the pantry, filing an income tax return to claim the remaining portion of the Child Tax Credit can be just another added expense. The two or three hundred dollars they will pay to have their tax return prepared by a professional is money that would be better spent on groceries.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program (VITA) is designed for families like these. Volunteers prepare basic tax returns for households with incomes under $66,000, saving precious pennies for families who need every last penny to get by.

Volunteers help these families in a variety of roles at our tax preparation sites. We are in need of volunteers to be greeters, appointment setters, document scanners and tax preparers. All volunteers receive training prior to tax season and will have the support of United Way of Charlotte County staff and experienced volunteers all along the way.

Tax preparation sites will be available in Port Charlotte and Punta Gorda beginning in February through mid-April. Volunteers serve an average of five hours per week on a schedule that works for them.

Each volunteer receives IRS training to ensure that each tax return filed through VITA is accurate, and that each tax preparer receives every deduction and credit they qualify for. Those pennies (dollars!) really do add up. Just like Larry Winget’s approach to a newfound penny, we want our Charlotte County neighbors to always be moving in the direction of financial stability.

If you would like to learn more about this short-term volunteer opportunity that can make a financial impact for families in need, please email VITA@unitedwayccfl.org. Our new volunteer training will be held Dec. 11. Training for all volunteers will be held Jan. 22.

For more information about United Way of Charlotte County’s mission:  Mobilizing the power of our community to break the cycle of poverty, please contact Angie Matthiessen, Executive Director. She can be reached at director@unitedwayccfl.org.