Barbara Boice sat in a row of plastic chairs in a classroom at Grant Union High School on Saturday with a dozen other residents waiting to have their tax returns completed.
Boice did her own taxes last year and ended up with a $100 refund. She isn’t sure if she correctly completed the return. Maybe she could have received more money back. She decided to come to Grant to get some help.
Waiting to assist were Grant student volunteers with the Internal Revenue Services’ Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program. VITA offers free tax help to people who make less than $53,000 a year, are disabled, older than 60 or who don’t speak English fluently.
About 100 students at the Del Paso Heights school are being trained for tax preparation through the program. Between 15 and 20 are certified to complete tax returns.
“I like helping low-income families,” said Marcais Arceneaus, a junior at Grant. “Some people can’t go around the corner to H&R Block.”
On Saturday, Arceneaus, who is waiting to learn if he has passed the certification test, was helping out in the waiting room. The students signed in clients and put out refreshments. Others, in orange vests and black pants, offered traffic control and helped people find the classroom where taxes were being prepared.
“They are applying what they do in the classroom to provide a real community service,” said Jim Rossetto, one of the Grant teachers running the program.
The program, in its seventh year, has served thousands of lower-income families. Last year, the students helped 250 local families get more than $500,000 in federal and state refunds, according to Rossetto.
The program puts an emphasis on ensuring that low-income residents know about the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is available to many who earn $52,427 or less annually. The credit can amount to as much as $6,000.
Last year, almost 28 million eligible workers and families received $66 billion from the Earned Income Tax Credit, with an average amount of $2,400, according to the Internal Revenue Service.
“Many people don’t know the money is out there,” Rossetto said. “It’s a tremendous credit.”
The Hernandez-Diaz family did not know they were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit before they started coming to Grant four years ago to have students prepare their taxes.
“We really recommend it, because they helped a lot,” said Susana Diaz, using daughter Veronica Hernandez as an interpreter.
The family was huddled around a computer with a student in a blue VITA T-shirt at the helm. The scene was replayed around the room. Teachers and one employee each from the Internal Revenue Service and the state Franchise Tax Board helped out.
At noon Saturday, Janice Campos was handed her tax return by Grant junior Vang Lor. She had come to Grant at 8:30 a.m. and was impatient to finish her errand, but grateful for the help. Campos learned of the service three years ago, when her daughter attended the school, and has been coming since.
The process usually goes much quicker. The tax preparation website had been problematic all morning Saturday, probably because of bad weather on the East Cost, Rossetto said. The students persevered, loading software onto each computer to do the returns when the system was offline.
The students usually hold five Saturday tax preparation events each year. Two of those are super events. On those days, the program uses four computer labs instead of one and brings in more state and federal help. The event has drawn people from as far away as West Sacramento and Folsom.
“The students are getting real-world business experience,” Rossetto said. He expected the students to help between 30 and 40 people Saturday.
Call The Bee’s Diana Lambert, (916) 321-1090. Follow her on Twitter @dianalambert.
Volunteer Income Tax Assistance
Grant High School
Feb. 28: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
March 7: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
March 21: 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
To make an appointment: In Sacramento, dial 211. Walk-ins accepted.