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UGA program brings tax help to East Athens

230306 VITA EADC Sign.jpg
Allison Salerno

In East Athens, at the Miriam Moore Community Center, University of Georgia retiree Heather Reed has arrived. She’s here for her tax prep appointment. 

Intern Taylor Nicholson, who’s earning her master’s in social work from UGA, helps Reed with the intake form. The East Athens Development Corporation headquarters is one of three sites in Athens that offers free tax preparation by appointment.

We have lots of people coming in here from different backgrounds, different cultures, all walks of life.
Taylor Nicholson

Reed says she’s been using the free tax prep opportunities for years. 

"I fall in that category of people that can get the free tax assistance," she says. "And this year when I looked it up, this was the venue that they told me, was the closest to me."

Nicolson, the VITA intern, sees a wide range of people. Anyone can make an appointment, but the focus is on people earning $60,000 a year or less. 

"We have lots of people coming in here from different backgrounds, different cultures, all walks of life," Nicholson said. "And they all are here to pay their taxes and do the same thing that everybody else in the world is trying to do."

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Allison Salerno
Heather Reed arrives for her tax prep appointment.

This is  the third year the East Athens Development Corporation has partnered with the School of Social Work to offer tax help through VITA - the IRS's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance.

Dr. Anthony Mallon is an associate professor in the UGA School of Social Work. He directs the Institute for Nonprofit Organizations and he runs the VITA clinic in East Athens. 

"All the volunteers are IRS certified," Mallon said. "They take a series of trainings through the IRS. I do want to emphasize that, because sometimes people hear 'free' and it means low quality. I would argue that we are volunteers. We're not accountants, but we are trained and we work diligently."

Mallon says interest in the East Athens VITA site is growing. 

"We have probably done more tax returns now just in our first few weeks than in the first two years combined," he said. "We're kind of getting into our groove and it's growing."

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One purpose of the clinic is to make sure eligible residents receive their Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC. Mallon says that in Athens, some 15% of the people eligible for the EITC don't claim it every year, adding up to an estimated $5 - $10 million.

The EITC helps low- to moderate-income workers get a tax break.  The goal is to promote work and reduce poverty. If you qualify, you can use the credit to reduce the taxes you owe – and maybe increase your refund.  Nearly all  people earning EITC have an adjusted gross income  under $50,000. 

As for Nicholson, the MSW student, she feels good about providing East Athens residents with an important service. 

"People get scared," she said. "This is essential, you know, especially in this community. And this is what VITA is doing, creating that space for people to come in to file their taxes.”

The East Athens Development Corporation headquarters is one of four sites in Athens that offers free tax preparation by appointment.

Here's where you can get free tax help in Athens Clarke County