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Temple VITA program moves online in response to COVID-19

March 24, 2020 //

PHILADELPHIA, March 24, 2020 — Steve Balsam is not a baseball player, but he has the instincts of one. 

Steve Balsam, photo by Jim Roese

“Sometimes you just react. It’s like when you see a fastball coming at you and you duck. You just know to do it. To me, this was like that. I said, ‘They’re closing down our physical facilities, but we’re still going to do this program,’” says Balsam, a professor of accounting who oversees Temple University’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program.

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the University moving the bulk of its operations online, the Fox School of Business has decided to do the same with its VITA program. The IRS-regulated program, which offers free tax help to people who make less than $56,000 per year, will now be facilitated through the use of Zoom Video Communications technology and TUsafesend, a resource that makes it easy to securely send and receive files from within and outside the University.

“About a week ago, when I first was hearing about other schools starting to close, I called up the IRS and said, ‘I know I did not put in an application to offer VITA virtually, but can we still do this?’ They were happy to help,” Balsam says.

Qualified persons can still sign up for the virtual VITA program by calling 215-326-9519 or emailing vita@temple.edu. Since its inception 12 years ago, the program, which is run by Temple student volunteers, has claimed more than $3 million in federal and state tax refunds for its clients.

Those same student volunteers were also key in helping the program move online this year. 

“We found out that the University was closing Wednesday night and then on Thursday and Friday, two students, Angela Morris and Alain Escalona Perez, called or emailed 60 clients who were scheduled to visit the Ambler Campus that Saturday to get their taxes prepared,” Balsam says.

According to Morris, a senior accounting major from Northeast Philadelphia, that process was easier said than done.

“It was a challenge because when you make these phone calls, it’s not like it’s just a five-minute conversation,” Morris says. “Thankfully, we were able to work through the process to get many of their consultations moved online.”

Some clients have been unable to use TUsafesend to transfer documents. To accommodate them, the VITA program has set up a P.O. box for them to physically mail their paperwork.

So far, the response to the program has been strong. The team of Temple VITA volunteers hopes it grows in the weeks to come, especially as other free tax programs are put on hold or forced to shut down.

“This is just so important that we’re able to do this,” Morris says. “When talking to a lot of the clients, it seems like everything else is temporarily shutting down. For a lot of them, it seems like we are their only option, so we need to accommodate them as much as possible.”

ABOUT THE FOX SCHOOL OF BUSINESS 

The vision of Temple University’s Fox School of Business is to transform student lives, develop leaders, and impact our local and global communities through excellence and innovation in education and research.

The Fox School’s research institutes and centers as well as 200+ full-time faculty provide access to market-leading technologies and foster a collaborative and creative learning environment that offers more than curriculum—it offers an experience. Coupled with its leading student services, the Fox School ensures that its graduates are fully prepared to enter the job market. 

The flexibility and responsiveness of our knowledge-creating research faculty allow the school to address the needs of industry and generate courses and programs in emerging fields. As a leader in business research, the Fox School values interdisciplinary approaches and translational research that influence and impact real-world problems. Our research informs an adaptive curriculum, supports innovation in teaching and prepares students for the ever-changing business environment.

To learn more about Temple University’s VITA program, visit their website.

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