Social Workers' Involvement With the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program
Methods: This paper explores and describes the most significant self-reported needs of VITA clients, and compares these needs with responses from VITA volunteers. The client survey instrument used for the study was developed by the Community Action Partnership of Utah (CAP-U) to collect annual data on VITA client financial needs. Secondary data from 3,933 VITA program clients in tax year 2010 and 5,504 clients in tax year 2011 was analyzed for this study. The focus group survey instrument for VITA volunteers was created for this study and includes responses from 30 VITA volunteers who were certified by the IRS and actively prepared taxes for VITA program clients for the tax year 2012.
Results: Results reveal out of 3,933 VITA program clients in tax year 2010, almost one-third (28%) indicate an interest in receiving information on financial aid, while 18.9% indicate a need to pay debt, and 18.7% indicate a need for information on how to budget. Similarly, in 2011, out of 5,504 respondents, 12.5% indicate their primary financial concern is to go back to school, 11.7% indicate budgeting is their second concern, and 10.8% marked financial aid as their third concern. Further, when asked, “if you received a tax refund last year, how did you spend it?” almost one-third (32.5%) indicate they spent their tax refund to pay for basic needs such as food, utilities, rent, and mortgage. Results from the focus groups reveal that VITA volunteers predominately identify VITA client needs beyond financial, such as housing, child care, employment, health care, legal, and mental health. VITA volunteers also indicated a need to improve the social service referral process and the need for follow up with VITA program clients.
Conclusions and Implications: The authors discuss the discrepancies between the needs identified by VITA clients and VITA volunteers, the potential benefit of the direct involvement of social workers with the VITA program and the important impact this involvement may have on VITA program client outcomes. Implications for future social work practice and research on the VITA program are discussed.