This week, U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., South Florida’s only Member on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee and the sponsor of the “VITA Permanence Act," highlighted the need for permanent, free tax preparing services for low income South Floridians in a Subcommittee on Oversight. Curbelo highlighted the legislation’s bipartisan support within the House of Representatives, and emphasized how free tax preparing services help vulnerable populations receive highly-accurate guidance to ensure the largest possible tax returns.
Curbelo has been a consistent advocate for the VITA program. Last year, Curbelo introduced the “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Permanence Act of 2017,” H.R. 2901, bipartisan legislation to permanently extend the VITA program. He also led a group of 55 bipartisan Members of Congress in a letter to urge House Appropriations leaders to provide full and robust funding for these programs. Curbelo also urged Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin to protect funding for programs like VITA during a Ways and Means Committee hearing earlier this year. Curbelo was also honored to invite United Way Miami-Dade to Washington last year to testify before the Subcommittee about the work they do to help South Floridians fully-utilize this free resource. Curbelo’s opening remarks were as follows:
Thank you, Madam Chairman and congratulations on your new role. I am thrilled that we will be working together under your leadership to reform, modernize and revamp the IRS and I know that members on both sides on the aisle will have plenty to contribute to this process. I want to take the opportunity today to discuss critical legislation I introduced with Representative Danny Davis of Illinois, which is very fitting given what we are discussing today.
Our bill, the “Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Permanence Act of 2017,” would permanently authorize the Internal Revenue Service to administer the Volunteer Income-Tax Assistance matching grant program. With the VITA program, the federal government partners with the local community to provide free tax preparation services for individuals with an annual income of less than $54,000 and those with limited proficiency in English.
The program is specifically targeted to ensure taxpayers have access to services where they can confidently file returns without fear of being scammed by fraudulent preparers. Tax return preparer fraud consistently ranks among the IRS’s “Dirty Dozen” tax scams, and we know this problem all too well in South Florida. Filing a tax return is enough of a headache without the added fear of being scammed. The VITA program helps insulate the most vulnerable populations from this threat.
The legislation also ensures that VITA grant recipients maintain strong records of accuracy that will save taxpayers money. The program already boasts a 94 percent accuracy rating, even including returns with the complicated Earned-Income Tax Credit. When taxpayers use VITA services to file their tax returns, they can rest assured knowing that their returns will be filed accurately and without the threat of fraud.
The success of the VITA program is evident in its growth. The number of tax returns prepared by the VITA program was 3.8 million in the 2016 tax filing season, up 100 percent from the number of returns prepared in the 2014 season. This program is critical to the residents of South Florida that I am honored to represent, where tax fraud and abuse of low-income filers is rampant, especially among immigrant communities.
According to Branches, a participant in the VITA program in Miami-Dade County, approximately 60 percent of residents qualify for assistance. In 2016, Branches helped residents file 9,845 tax returns at no cost and secure $11.5 million in refunds. I look forward to visiting a VITA center operated by the United Way in South Florida in the very near future.
Funding for this essential service has received bipartisan support under both Republican and Democratic administrations. The House and Senate Appropriations Committees have continued to include strong funding for taxpayer services like VITA regardless of which party is in the majority. The VITA Permanency Act would provide the longevity this program needs because it benefits so many.
H.R. 2901 already has the support of 38 bipartisan members, including 13 members of this committee. I urge my colleagues to join us in supporting the VITA program, which has a proven track record of success in assisting the most vulnerable in our communities.
US. Rep. Carlos Curbelo, R-Fla., was first elected to Congress in 2014.