June 29, 2017

10th Year Triumph for UNHP Bronx Free Tax Prep

by UNHP

Great partnerships, dedicated volunteers, a range of on-site services and a commitment to professional, accurate, informative free tax preparation were hallmarks of our 10th anniversary for this successful program serving low-income Bronx residents.

UNHP, working with our great partners, Ariva and Fordham Bedford Community Services, assisted 1,447 unique fliers file their taxes and obtain an average refund of $1,405 fee-free dollars. The average adjusted gross household income of filers was $17,100 and 84% of our tax clients earn less than $30,000 per year. UNHP free tax preparation services brought in $1.9M in State and Federal refunds for our low-income tax clients with 332 households receiving an average refund of $2,209 via the Earned Income Tax credit (EITC). UNHP offered 15 tax days in the Enterprise Heiskell Computer Lab at Refuge House, a community services hub run by Fordham Bedford Community Services and home to the offices of the UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center (NWBRC).

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UNHP Bronx Free Tax Prep Program by the Numbers

Strong partnerships combined with trained volunteers and experienced UNHP staff laid the foundation for a professional, comprehensive, successful no-fee tax prep program. Ariva and Fordham Bedford Community Services (FBCS) are our primary partners for our Tax Preparation Program. Ariva, a leader in NYC tax preparation, is a certified IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program partner and provided access to the new IRS TaxSlayer software, an experienced site manager, Maribel Montilla, quality reviewers and technical assistance. FBCS is our primary community partner providing space, the FBCS Enterprise Heiskell Center Technology lab and most importantly the services of William Sanchez, FBCS Computer Services Coordinator, an experienced quality reviewer and tax preparer for the program. UNHP coordinates the program, provides senior staff, outreach, phone screening, appointments and significant program support. Jumelia Abrahamson, the Director of the Northwest Bronx Resource Center, and Fernanda Campos, a long-time seasonal staff member, now full-time Financial Assistant at UNHP, are both certified as site managers and are UNHP’s staff leaders for the tax program. A partnership with NYS Office of Taxation and Finance provided technical assistance and a day of NYS tax volunteers offering assistance to clients.

In addition to key partnerships, the UNHP program runs on reliable trained volunteers. Working with local colleges, primarily Manhattan College and Fordham University, UNHP trained 86 volunteers who provided over 1,700 volunteer hours. The IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, available to UNHP via Ariva, provides free tax preparation to single individuals with no dependents earning up to $34,000 and for family households earning up to $54,000. This year, UNHP trained non-student volunteers to assist Bronx residents who may fall outside of the VITA income guidelines, to provide self-guided tax preparation through various free tax prep sites including MyFreeTaxes. Four NYS Office of Taxation and Finance volunteers and six volunteers with professional careers in engineering, accounting and financial services offered their assistance to 29 Bronx residents. The self-guided tax program provides support to those who have not filed online before and oversight to those wishing to ensure they are filing correctly.

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Volunteers are the backbone of UNHP’s Bronx Tax Prep program!
Pictured above are just some of the 86 student and non-student volunteers that powered our program. Our student volunteers come primarily from the business schools of Manhattan College and Fordham University, with some students from service learning programs. Our non-student volunteers supported the self-guided tax preparation initiative and offered support and assistance to Bronx residents seeking to use no-cost online tax programs. NYS Department of Taxation and Finance also provided volunteers for a day of service to those seeking assistance with online free tax filing.

Two other key components to the UNHP tax program are access to on-site benefit, financial and housing services and a focus on senior citizens. Apple Bank for Savings, a long-standing UNHP tax partner, provided access to no- and low-cost banking products and opened 10 new bank accounts. UNHP screened tax clients for the NYC Rent Freeze and scheduled appointments for enrollment at the UNHP Northwest Bronx Resource Center. Working with Part of the Solution (POTS), we screened 109 people for SNAP and 21 applicants have been enrolled. 47 mini-financial coaching sessions and credit reports pulls were done on-site with 240 tax clients going on to attend our five session Getting Ahead class with Neighborhood Trust Financial Partners or a 1:1 financial coaching session at the NWBRC. A partnership with Bronx Community Health Network provided on-site access to affordable health insurance and information about Bronx health services available via Montefiore Hospital. UNHP also works directly with Fordham Bedford Housing Corporation and RoseHill Management at their four local low-income Senior Citizen residences; Serviam Gardens, Rose Hill Apartments, Edison Arms and Msgr. Fiorentino Residence to provide on-site free tax preparation – this year we helped 254 seniors file their taxes in the comfort of their own buildings!

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Low and no-cost bank accounts, SNAP food benefits, health insurance, credit reports, and access to free financial education, coaching and the NYC Rent Freeze were all available during the tax day for Bronx residents.

To mark our 10th anniversary, UNHP decided to host two successful bookend events to the tax season: our January 18th Financial Fitness Event and our April 12th Spring Into Action Event. The tax season launch and closing events offered access to our free financial and housing services, banking presentations, immigrant services and either tax appointments or tax reviews. Over 75 Bronx residents, mostly UNHP tax clients attended these events. The January 18 Financial Fitness Event enabled residents to book their tax appointment and obtain banking and immigration information as well as a credit report. Amalgamated Bank offered two short banking presentations in Spanish with important banking information and tips for immigrants. Santander Bank was also available with information about accounts and credit report assistance. During the April 12 Spring Into Action Event, UNHP assisted tax clients with holds and incomplete returns and helped an additional 24 clients file their taxes before the deadline. Taxes were filed on the lower level in the computer lab and the first floor was transformed with spring flowers and our non-profit, banking and city agency partners into an action-oriented resource fair with a focus on credit reports and the NYC Rent Freeze. TD Bank volunteers helped us pull 11 credit reports and provided a brief analysis, while Apple Bank for Savings was available to open bank accounts for attendees.

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UNHP’s Spring Into Action Event reached over 45 Bronx residents, 20 of whom obtained their credit report and analysis, applied for the NYC Rent Freeze, signed up for a financial education class and/or home-buyer counseling. Arlene, a tax client for three years, signed up for her 2nd Getting Ahead 5 session financial education workshop, and met with a financial coach to discuss reducing her debt.

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UNHP’s 10th anniversary tax season started with a Financial Fitness Event where clients could access our services and be the first to make a tax appointment. Amalgamated Bank offered two banking and immigrant financial services workshops to attendees, while Santander Bank assisted with credit report pulls. Edward, a fourth year tax client, attended both of our events - he attended the banking workshop at our January event and signed up for a tax appointment and a financial coaching session. He returned to the Spring event with bad news - he was a victim of identity theft - but fortunately UNHP’s financial coach was on hand to work with Edward to help protect his financial security.

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