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Volunteer Tax Experts Help Immigrants Access over $1 Million in Returns

March 17, 2022

Axel Flores, Workforce Development Senior Manager

For the past several years during tax prep season, from January through April, David Garcia, helps low-income immigrants, many of whom only speak Spanish, to navigate their way through the maze of requirements and regulations that constitute a tax return. As an IRS-certified volunteer with Canal Alliance, David explains: “I help guide people around the barriers and get through the system we have in place so they can get access to the benefits they have a right to.” 
David is just one of ten volunteers working under the supervision of Axel Flores, pictured here. Axel is Canal Alliance’s Workforce Development Senior Manager and a veteran administrator of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) through which the program operates. Last year, Axel and his team helped return more than $1 million in federal and state funds to taxpayers, many of whom are Latino immigrants living in the Canal neighborhood.  

“One of the best things about Canal Alliance are the volunteers, like David, who return year after year,” notes Axel Flores, who also has expertise as an accountant and financial coach. “With their commitment, our base of knowledge expands, our productivity increases, and we are able to serve more people in need.” 

VITA is an initiative of the IRS that is implemented by local partners and with the support of trained, certified volunteers. Here in Marin County, Canal Alliance is the largest VITA site and works as a grantee and under the organizational umbrella of the United Way. Nationally, the free tax prep support is available to people with low-to-moderate income, senior citizens, people with disabilities, those with limited English proficiency, and others in need of support.  

The team at Canal Alliance provides one-on-one support, both in person and remote, helping people with everything from copying documents to guiding applications for the ITIN, the Individual Taxpayer Identification Number. The ITIN is a tax-processing number issued by the IRS to ensure that people, including undocumented immigrants, file returns on income regardless of immigration status and the status of a Social Security number.  

“The process of filing a tax return can be confusing for anyone, even for people who are long-time filers,” states Axel Flores. “The barriers are exponentially higher for immigrants who are new to the workforce, unfamiliar with the IRS, and fearful of government institutions. Our goal is to help people with their immediate tax returns and to educate people about the US tax system so that each year it becomes faster and easier. Everyone is encouraged to ask questions.” 

David Garcia, volunteer, and Axel Flores, program manager, provide remote tax prep support. 

By the Numbers

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