With more volunteers, a frustrating situation could be improved at Horry County sites of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at three public libraries in Conway, Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach where the shortage of volunteers causes about as many folks to be turned away as receive assistance.
A shortage of volunteers is “our biggest drawback,” says Utocqua Grissett, who helps organize the VITA sites as coordinator for the Horry County Financial Literacy Coalition. It is a collaboration of entities including the United Way, Horry-Georgetown Technical College, Coastal Carolina University, the Salvation Army, Alpha Sorority Inc. and Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. The coalition has been organized for about 10 years, Grissett says. VITA is a national program sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service for four decades. Horry County has had a VITA program since the 1990s, Grissett says.
VITA is the focal point for the coalition’s goal of increasing the financial stability of low-income working individuals and families in Horry County. VITA volunteers, trained in tax preparation, provide free income tax assistance to taxpayers with gross income of $51,000 or under. “The program is designed for low to moderate income taxpayers,” Grissett says. The $51,000 income before deductions is set by the IRS.
VITA has about 15 volunteers assisting taxpayers at three public libraries in Conway, Myrtle Beach and Surfside Beach. Grissett estimates 40 to 50 people are assisted on the day volunteers are at the three sites – and approximately the same number are turned away. This illustrates the pressing need for qualified tax preparers. Grissett says many of the volunteers return each tax-filing season. She mentioned two snowbirds, both experienced at tax preparation, who are again among the VITA volunteers. In addition to the 15 volunteers assisting taxpayers at the three libraries, there are additional volunteers at CCU where assistance is available three days a week.
Last tax-filing season, the volunteers completed more than 5,000 returns which brought over $6 million to Horry County taxpayers. Grissett recalls years a decade ago when VITA did “barely 100 returns” and begged people to use VITA. Now she would like to recruit volunteers to not have to turn people away. Folks who know how to complete tax returns and want to volunteer may leave a name and phone number on the United Way phone number – 843-347-5195, Ext. 105. During tax season, the message is directed to people desiring assistance, so folks who are potential volunteers should make that clear.
Grissett has volunteered with VITA for more than 10 years and goes to all of the preparation sites. She’s a banker in Myrtle Beach and has lived in Conway since 4th grade. She is a graduate of CCU and Conway High School.