United Way of Southern Cameron County to offer free tax assistance

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Tax preparation volunteers Ashley Arizmendi, middle, and Guadalupe Hernandez discuss a tax question while assisting a client at the Texas Southmost College VITA site on Monday, Jan. 22, 2024. (Courtesy: United Way of Southern Cameron County)

The first of the year means tax season is here and the United Way of Southern Cameron County is cranking up its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

A free service for individuals and families earning less than $64,000 annually, VITA last year filed more than 5,000 tax returns and returned more than $2.8 million in Earned Income Tax Credits and more than $1.7 million in Child Tax Credits to local taxpayers, according to UWSCC.

Nine VITA sites will be available in Brownsville, two in Harlingen, two in Los Fresnos, and one each in La Feria, Port Isabel and San Benito at various dates and times from late January through most of tax season. Some sites are appointment-only. Others will accept walk-ins.

The VITA site at Texas Southmost College ITECC, 301 Mexico Blvd., F-6 has already launched. The site will be offering appointment-only tax preparation through April 17.

For complete information on VITA sites in the Rio Grande Valley, hours and dates of dates of operation, and phone numbers for making appointments if necessary, call 211 or visit 211texas.org.

UWSCC is holding a special event on Jan. 31 at Porter Early College High School recognizing its early participation in the VITA program. Porter hosted its first VITA site in 2009 under the guidance of former teacher Alberto Velez. That first year, student volunteers prepared 103 tax returns, secured $256,232 in credits for filers and pioneered VITA at the high school level.

Porter’s VITA program is now under the guidance of business teacher Michelle Solis, who will be presented with an award by Velez during the Jan. 31 ceremony. Solis said she’s grateful for the opportunity to help her students gain their Tax Preparation Certification — necessary to be a VITA volunteer — with the support of UWSCC and the IRS.

“Not only do they get this lifelong skill, but they also get the chance to help the community in preparing their taxes for free,” she said. “We live in an area where many families are living paycheck to paycheck, and having these services available to them on campus has helped them tremendously. Our students have learned many necessary skills such as tax laws, business clerical skills and customer service that will help them forever.”