United Way Suncoast supports and operates the VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program for the Tampa Bay area. VITA is a national program helping to ensure billions of dollars in tax returns are returned to individuals in communities across the United States. For 50 years, people with disabilities, lower income or limited English speaking ability have relied on VITA to assist them, with filing their tax returns and ultimately receive tax refunds, through an in-person service.
During the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, social distancing has made face to face meetings an impossibility for VITA. Since many of those served do not have access to the internet, the program has heavily relied upon in-person meetings for over 50 years and required changes to ensure billions of dollars in tax returns would be returned to individuals in communities across the United States.
“Hundreds of clients in the Tampa area were in mid-process with tax returns and thousands were in que. With social distancing, all our VITA sites in the Tampa Bay area had to close. We needed an immediate solution to serve the community, in a safe and secure digital environment that protected clients’ personal information,” explained Dallas Smith, VP of Informational Technology, United Way Suncoast.
“We turned to the team at Upic Solutions to develop a solution that would enable us to continue serving clients during this critical time. They quickly created a virtual solution that enabled clients to be served from their homes,” noted Smith.
Upic Solutions’ goal was to create a solution that would work for United Way Suncoast and could also be scaled across the United Way network. Utilizing trusted technology widely available within the network, Upic engineered a Virtual VITA program with United Way Suncoast. This solution was then reviewed and approved by an IRS relationship manager.
Key components of the solution included trusted applications that were already in place including:
- Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Online for secure, encrypted email communications
- Microsoft Teams for secure, encrypted file sharing
- Microsoft Teams for secure, encrypted video teleconferencing
“Security was critical when developing a virtual VITA program given the need to account for taxpayer privacy and confidentiality. The virtual program is available nationwide to United Ways and VITA programs,” explained Angie Gudino, Upic Director.
With only a brief program pause, United Way Suncoast was able to resume the VITA program virtually. Program volunteers transitioned with minimal training. Individual tax filings are flowing again, in support of family financial stability and prosperity within the Tampa Bay area and beyond.
The VITA program is key to helping those in need get back on their feet. With the Virtual VITA program, we are able to continue our commitment to financial stability in our community by helping our clients get their tax returns,” noted Margarita Perez, Senior Manager Financial Stability, United Way Suncoast who runs the VITA program.