United Way of Greater Augusta’s free tax preparation program Valley VITA is temporarily suspended following the latest restrictions on public operations, services and social gatherings in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Amidst all of this unknown right now, taxes are nothing they should worry about,” said Kristi Williams, director of operations for United Way of Greater Augusta, in reference to community members waiting to have taxes prepared.

“They’re not going to get any penalties; they’re not going to get any fines,” she said. “They’ve got plenty of time, and we fully anticipate getting back in action and running full-steam, and helping them complete other taxes. We’re here for you, and will be here for you when this all blows over.”

Although tax preparation operations at Valley Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), are currently suspended, Williams said the program will pick back up as soon as the pandemic begins to “mellow out” and it becomes socially responsible and safe to do so. Whether the program will allow drop-off service only, or in-person tax preparation as well, has yet to be decided.

Williams said that, in spite of the current circumstances, Valley VITA was operating ahead of previous years in terms of both volunteer numbers and client numbers. The program had completed and filed 748 federal returns for 2019 as of March 16, Williams reported — 22% ahead of where Valley VITA was in 2019.

Federal tax filing deadline was extended until July 15 in light of the pandemic. As of Tuesday, Williams said that Virginia state taxes still had a deadline of May 1. Williams speculated that there may eventually be an extension for Virginia taxes as well.

Valley VITA still has a free website where individuals may file their own tax returns. Williams added that Valley VITA will post the latest updates relating to taxes and the tax preparation program on their official Facebook page, as well as their website.

United Way is now turning their energies to disaster relief, Williams said.

“United Way has put a lot of effort into their programs, such as the VITA program, and we’re really proud of the programs that we operate. But in these ever-changing times of unexpectedness, community needs to come together right now,” she said. “Our focus here has shifted completely to not so much focus on our internal programs, but to focus now on disaster relief and local relief for our non-profits and for community members who are not going to be able to work, and pay their rent and mortgage, and not be able to get the food that they need. Our focus now is going to be the Community Foundation and some other non-profits to really make sure our community gets out of this with their head above water.

A COVID resource page is available on United Way of Greater Augusta’s website, at unitedwayga.org, where individuals may go to find assistance with anything they might need during this time of pandemic.

“If any community member feels they have an immediate need and they don’t know where to reach out to, they can call the United Way office, and we will try to direct them or help them directly however we can to make sure they feel safe and secure,” Williams said.

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