As tax season approaches, the New Haven city government is promoting a longstanding program to help low-income residents file accurately.

Mayor Justin Elicker visited a site for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program on Thursday morning to highlight the free services the program offers. VITA, which consists of 14 sites across the greater New Haven area, provides free annual tax preparation assistance and financial advisory services to low to moderate-income Connecticut residents.

The program provides assistance to community members who have a household income of less than $63,000, are disabled or speak limited English.

The organization held a briefing at its Evergreen AAA Site in West River to spotlight its services and raise community awareness. 

“Last year, VITA volunteers in New Haven helped 3,700 families. That’s a huge number. 1,700 families claimed over $4.6 million in refunds. So some of that money could be yours this year, and if you’re listening, make sure you come in and get your refund and save $1.1 million in tax preparation fees,” Mayor Elicker said in a speech. “This is a huge, huge service to our communities.”

VITA works in conjunction with other organizations in the city, one of which is the Financial Empowerment Center which provides educational events, personal budgeting and access to banking and credit advisors.

Brenda Moore, the Empowerment Center’s program manager, emphasized the importance of helping community members get “back on track,” following the pandemic and rising inflation. 

According to Nick Brundage, a VITA program manager, many New Haveners don’t take advantage of these resources, and he pointed to an IRS report that estimated around 20 percent of people eligible for certain tax credits in the city don’t receive them.

“We’re looking at you know, about a quarter of a million dollars left at the IRS that can be in people’s pockets here in New Haven,” Brundage said. “So getting the word out about the VITA program is incredibly important. And as families continue to face inflation, the VITA program continues to be a free service that connects them to other services like the [Financial Empowerment Center].”

VITA also hopes to make community members aware of the fiscal policies that are shaping their day-to-day lives.

According to Brundage, a group of dependency credits, which are credits that can reduce the taxes a filer pays by up to $2,000, were reduced after the pandemic.

Volunteers are an integral core of VITA’s services and programs, and a few team members were present for the event.

Takima Robinson, the chief program officer, continues to volunteer because of the meaningful contribution that she believes the team is making in the city. 

“$19,355 I want to say one more time, $19,355. That is a refund that we were able to get a family when I started many years ago,” Robinson said. “That is why I still come back and volunteer. It is a life changer. VITA comes in handy to those who need it the most.”

VITA hopes to open more branches and grow its team this coming year to expand its offerings for the 2025 tax season. 

Pamela Allen, the site coordinator for VITA Evergreen AAA, also encourages volunteers to bring the program’s services to their own communities and towns if they don’t provide similar services. 

According to Allen, universities in the area have an obligation to provide financial advice and tax assistance to the towns they are in. 

“Yale needs to do this. Albertus Magnus needs to do this. Southern needs to do this. They need to open up the door, save their students some money, and also help community members save some money,” she said. 

VITA Evergreen AAA is located at 43 Norton St.

Correction, Feb. 28: This article has been corrected as VITA consists of 14 sites across the greater New Haven area and provides services to those who have a household income of less than 63,000 not 55,000.

Nati Tesfaye is a sophomore in Branford College from East Haven, Connecticut. He covers business, workers and unions in the city of New Haven. Last year, he covered housing and homelessness for the News.