NEW YORK — For the first time, the IRS has provided a grant to help a coalition of credit unions provide volunteer income tax assistance to their lower income members.The $125,000 grant went to the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions on behalf of a coalition of 16 CDCU’s that have opened or will soon open VITA sites.Although it is not a new program, the IRS VITA approach seeks to help lower income Americans file taxes and qualify for the earned income tax credit. The EITC returns thousands of dollars to lower income Americans, including credit union members.“The IRS has been a proud partner of the federation for over six years,” explained Debra J. Chandler, national credit union relationship manager and senior tax analyst at the IRS financial institutions partnership office. “We selected the federation coalition as a recipient of an inaugural VITA grant because of their ongoing commitment to serving low-income and underserved communities across the nation. In addition to hosting free tax preparation sites, we are confident that this funding will enable the federation’s coalition to promote financial education, tax education and asset-building strategies to low-income consumers.”The first of the 16, hosted by Alternatives FCU, headquartered in Ithaca, N.Y., has opened already and the remaining 15 will open in early February.“The federation is proud to support and promote VITA sites at credit unions across the country,” said federation CEO Cliff Rosenthal. “Our member and partner credit unions work hard to provide their communities with access to affordable financial services, and VITA sites help ensure low-income people take advantage of the various tax rebates they are entitled to by law.”Nine of the credit unions participating in the coalition have never hosted a VITA site previously, and Bernard Balsis, a manager at Ka’u FCU, headquartered in Na’alehu, Hawaii, a federation board member, is especially excited to host his first VITA site, according to the federation.“Many people don’t realize the extent of poverty that exists in Hawaii. We have many people in our area who don’t know that they can file taxes and receive tax credits, particularly those in senior homes,” explained Balsis. “This year we are launching mobile VITA sites to help our members with limited mobility to access their much-needed tax rebates.”“Credit unions have a special advantage as VITA sites,” explained Rosenthal. “A community member looking for free tax preparation may find that their credit union can also serve many of their other financial needs, with checking and savings accounts, low-cost refund anticipation loans and financial literacy education. VITA offers an opportunity for credit unions to build their membership while supporting their communities.”–[email protected]

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