This tax season, VITA organizations across the country continued to address the unmet financial needs of low-income communities as a result of COVID-19, and the financial disparities faced by BIPOC communities caused by centuries of systemic racism. Many programs utilized both in-person and virtual tools to successfully reach their clients, a process that provided new opportunities as well as unique challenges. To learn more about the work of organizations during this tax season, we sat down with Ancel Tejada, the Program Manager for Financial Empowerment at the Massachusetts Association for Community Action (MASSCAP) and a grantee of Prosperity Now’s VITA Pilot program. This program, funded by the Citi Foundation, provided five organizations with subgrants to analyze the needs of their first-time and lapsed filers, which is a key demographic given the many recent tax law changes. Read our conversation with Ancel below.
Hello Ancel, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Could you describe what your role is with MASSCAP?
I am the program manager for financial empowerment, which is a newly created role. I manage MASSCAP’s coalitions and grow our VITA work through financial education. MASSCAP is one of the many federally mandated anti-poverty organizations in the U.S. Our agency is responsible for managing 21 VITA sites throughout the state.
What challenges have you faced during this VITA season? What were some of your successes?
The main challenge we have had is the continued uncertainty of how we can best deliver our services, virtual, in person, or a hybrid format. Accessing technology is still an issue for many of our clients, so there were some hurdles trying to get them the services they need virtually. It’s become a pivot point for us, whether we go fully hybrid or virtual, and we’re still working to find that balance. However, despite those difficulties, we made a big push for people to take advantage of the tax credits available to them. Creating a sense of urgency through our community partnerships was very crucial to us, including our partnerships with the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance Program (DTA). This government partnership really helped us to get the word out about our services through their existing outreach channels and allowed us to connect many more first-time filers than we would have otherwise.
What goals does your organization have for the remainder of 2022?
A big goal for us has been finding ways to get back to “normal.” That doesn’t necessarily mean being back in person, but we want to get back to basics, back to helping our clients and really understanding what their needs are. We also want to continue increasing awareness around the new tax credits that are available, specifically the Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. Helping our clients see that there are opportunities to get money back in their own pockets has been huge for us.
What are some highlights from your experience working with Prosperity Now?
Prosperity Now’s tax resources are always extremely useful and insightful. I also really enjoy the opportunity to connect with Prosperity Now’s other partners, it always gets me thinking about what new organizations we could potentially partner with. It’s also reassuring to see that other organizations are navigating the same issues that we are and finding new ways to better serve their communities.
As a member of the Prosperity Now VITA Pilot program, how will your participation help you expand your outreach strategies for first-time and lapsed filers?
The pilot program has really helped us to increase our capacity by working with various organizations to create new marketing materials and a fresh social media campaign. With this support, we now have the perfect opportunity to connect lapsed and non-filers with crucial information that they need to connect to our VITA services. We want to be innovative in our approach to reaching specific groups, especially the homeless community, as well as those who are in financial and employment transition. Meeting our clients where they are, with the help of local, state, and federal organizations, is very important to us.
For more information about MASSCAP visit their website or follow them on social media! For further reading on Prosperity Now’s VITA pilot focused on serving first-time or lapsed filers, check out the blog: Three Burning Questions for VITA Programs.
Originally posted by Prosperity Now on 2022-05-12 19:00:00