The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program as a Legal Tax Resistance Technique

This is from a series of pages on sources of federal war spending other than the federal income tax and strategies that war tax resisters can use to reduce their support of the government in these areas.

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program

How can volunteering in an IRS-sponsored program and helping people file their tax returns be a useful thing for war tax resisters to consider? When those tax returns overwhelmingly result in refunds that take money back from the government and give it to lower-income people.

Description

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (or VITA) program enlists ordinary people like you and me to help people — typically people with low incomes — fill out their income tax returns. The individual sites are run by a variety of non-governmental organizations, but the program itself is sponsored by the IRS, which also provides some funding.

Most of the people who get assistance with their returns from the VITA program qualify for refunds (for instance, in , returns filed through the program brought in $66 million in additional federal taxes, but paid out $996 million in refunds). Some of these people, in the absence of this program, either would not file for their refunds or would not know how best to take advantage of the credits and deductions that make the refunds possible.

In particular, millions of households in the United States that qualify for the refundable Earned Income Tax Credit fail to apply for it either because they do not know about the credit (or that they qualify for it) or because they are overwhelmed by the paperwork involved.

A volunteer with the VITA program may, by doing so, redirect tens of thousands of dollars from the U.S. Treasury into the pockets of lower-income people. As one war tax resister put it: “The harder I work the longer the Sheriff of Nottingham has to keep his hands in the air as I pull coins from his purse.”

How Do You Volunteer?

There are far more people who need help filing their returns than there are VITA volunteers. You don’t have to be an income tax wizard — the IRS provides free training, and you can also volunteer to help in ways that don’t directly involve tax preparation if you really don’t want to go anywhere near a 1040.

This free training can also be useful to people who want to be tax resistance counselors, or who just want to learn more about the IRS-approved methods of keeping their money out of the government’s hands.

Each client brings in a different set of tax challenges, some of which would probably be difficult for seasoned tax professionals to wrap their minds around, but volunteers do their best to come up with complete and accurate returns based on the information they have to work with.

Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any centralized resource you can go to in order to find out how to volunteer in your area. You may have do do some on-line searching and keep track of volunteer postings in your neighborhood. The IRS may put up a partial list of sites at this page. You can also try calling your local IRS office, or the national IRS tax assistance number at 1‒800‒829‒1040. Training classes typically begin around December or January, while the actual tax return preparation and filing peaks around March and early April.

Cooperating With the IRS

It would be natural for war tax resisters to have mixed feelings about cooperating with the IRS, even when this cooperation is in service of taking money out of the hands of the warfare state and giving it back to people. One volunteer resister wrote:

I have conflicting feelings about it. On the one hand, just about everybody I work with is getting a refund, and the sum of my work helps take money from the U.S. Treasury, with the money going back to families who have had it taken from them all year in the form of FICA and federal income tax withholding.

On the other hand, it requires me to collaborate in the tax filing system in an uncomfortable way. And to some extent I participate in the IRS’s attempt to recast itself from a bullying olympian of larceny into some sort of social welfare agency — “look at us giving money to the poor!”

What About Helping People Cheat on Their Taxes?

It might seem like an even better idea for a resister to volunteer for the VITA program and then bend the rules to take even more money in refunds for clients than the law explicitly allows.

You can certainly choose to look the other way when your clients make unlikely claims that seem as though they might be in the service of tax evasion. But it would not be ethical to make your clients take risks on your behalf by getting creative with their forms on your own. For example, some people who file returns through VITA are applying for citizenship or for asylum, and it is important to them that they file lawful and honest returns so as not to jeopardize that process.

Are there Any Other Side Effects to This Program?

The Earned Income Tax Credit provides additional money to low-income people who have a small amount of declared earned income. Because of this, some low-income people who earn their money in the underground economy may be motivated to try to bring their income above-ground. This could have the effect of weakening the underground economy and thereby making more of the economy vulnerable to taxation. By volunteering for VITA, you are helping people to apply for this credit.


There’s a good interview with Kathy Kelly up at Waging Nonviolence. It includes a bit on her tax resistance:

JMR: Why did you decide to become a war-tax refuser?

KK: When it dawned on me that my neighbors didn’t have food, that the youngsters would be remarkable if they made it though their teenage years, and that people in my neighborhood were sleeping in abandoned buildings. There’s no way I was going to go to a teaching job and spend much of my teaching day trying to teach youngsters about opposition, radical opposition to nuclear weaponry and then take a third of my income and then pay for nuclear weapons and the rest of it. It wasn’t even a question once I realized, and I thought “Of course! What a relief! I don’t have to pay those taxes.” I never will pay those taxes and since the day that I first made that determination, there hasn’t been a doubt in my mind. I will never pay federal income tax.

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