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Tax help offered to eligible area residents

Tax preparation assistance is now available for the area's low- to moderate-income residents, through a program of the Atlanta Community Food Bank's Atlanta Prosperity Campaign, the Internal Revenue Service, and a coalition of community organizations.

Eligible taxpayers who had a household income of $48,000 or less in 2009 can receive tax preparation services, free of charge, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program, according to Angie Clawson, a spokeswoman for the food bank.

IRS-certified volunteer tax preparers will be available at various sites to assist taxpayers in preparing their taxes. More than 40 VITA Program sites in 10 metro counties opened Jan. 29, and will be open through April 15, Clawson said.

The Atlanta Prosperity Campaign saw a 30 percent, year-over-year increase in the number of free returns processed last year, said Clawson. The campaign served a total of 12,200 taxpayers last year, which accounted for $16 million in tax refunds and more than $4 million in Earned Income Tax Credits.

The Earned Income Tax Credit, a credit for taxpayers who work but do not earn high incomes, is a valuable tool which helps those who are eligible to lower their taxes or claim a refund, said IRS Spokesman Mark Green.

Green said the Earned Income Tax Credit has no effect on certain welfare benefits, and "in most cases, EITC payments will not be used to determine eligibility for Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, food stamps, low-income housing or most Temporary Assistance for Needy Families payments."

The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program offers help in determining whether individuals qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, said Carter Elliott, manager of the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign.

"Many people who are eligible to receive the credit don't even know to apply for it," Elliott said. "VITA volunteers are trained to screen clients to see if they can receive EITC. The VITA program is a great way to save money for people who are struggling to make ends meet."

To learn more, or find a list of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program sites, visit the Atlanta Prosperity Campaign's web site at www.atlantaprosperity.org. Prospective VITA clients may also call the United Way, a VITA Program coalition organization, at (404) 614-1000.