MEIC Learning Exchange 2017 Recap

On Friday, June 16, practitioners throughout Michigan gathered in Lansing to discuss the state of their Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Programs at the Michigan Economic Impact Coalition’s (MEIC) annual Learning Exchange. The 2017 filing season came with both new and recurring challenges: new filing software (TaxSlayer), volunteer recruitment/retention and building programs with low capacity.

The morning started with a brief introduction and overview of MEIC activities from Ross Yednock, MEIC’s program director. Amanda Grover of Goodwill Industries of West Michigan and Darcy Brown of United Way Montcalm-Ionia Counties took over from there, leading the TaxSlayer software discussion. It was quickly discovered that most attendees were all facing a similar hurdle: training returning volunteers on the new software was difficult, and continuous updates were confusing. Looking ahead, however, MEIC members remain hopeful that TaxSlayer’s executives are committed to listening to feedback and improving the software for the next tax season.

The Learning Exchange was fortunate to have Whitney Skeans from the Consumer’s Energy Foundation speak about the Home Heating Credit. The deadline to apply for this credit is September 30, 2017; if you weren’t at the Learning Exchange, make sure to check out our recent blog on this tax credit!

Also speaking at the event was Michigan Department of Treasury’s Jennifer Pruden, who spoke to individual income tax updates, provided updated contact information and answered attendee questions.

During lunch, Wayne Metropolitan Community Action Agency presented “Promotions of Savings at Tax Time,” an initiative supported by CEDAM’s Financial Opportunity Corps Americorps members Jael Cain and Kim Yost. This program incentivizes savings through matches, financial education and client engagement.

Wayne Metro Staff at Learning Exchange 2017
Wayne Metro Staff at Learning Exchange 2017

An interactive rapid-fire sharing show and tell followed, where all members presented successes, challenges and innovations. A key recommendation from sites in Detroit, metro Detroit and Benton Harbor: contact local colleges to recruit student volunteers to join your programs.

Breakout discussions wrapped up the Learning Exchange; attendees discussed volunteer training, marketing, communications and community outreach and Virtual VITA. MEIC members agreed that striking the perfect balance between training volunteers in-person and online is difficult, marketing and outreach are critical to client inclusion and Virtual VITA can help sites build capacity.

If you would like any more information regarding the Learning Exchange or VITA programming, please contact Ross Yednock.