First Marker on the Table for FY13 Budget Talks
The federal budget process is a drawn-out and difficult affair, especially when there are too few resources to help families who struggle with too many important needs. But Volunteer Income Tax Assistance represented a relatively bright spot Monday in the first public step of Fiscal Year 2013 budget discussions.
The President’s proposed budget for the next year included $12 million for the Community VITA grant program, sticking with the current funding level for crucial, tax-preparation services on which millions of low-income, working families depend.
Admittedly, the true cost of operating Community VITA sites nationwide totals more than a dozen times that amount. And as demands for VITA help are growing, these services are absorbing brutal funding cuts at the state, local and philanthropic levels.
Nonetheless, as many other significant priorities are targeted for cuts, President Obama’s recommendation for steady federal VITA support represents qualified good news. Also in the Good News for Now Department, the President’s FY13 budget proposal would:
- Maintain current funding levels for Tax Counseling for the Elderly services and Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic grants
- Increase the maximum Pell Grant by $85 through the 2014-15 academic year and delay a scheduled increase in the interest rate for federally subsidized student loans
Supporters of these priorities – and the individuals and families whose needs they represent – should brace for another tough year of advocacy work as Congress now takes-up budget negotiations. The last two federal budgets were settled only after contentious talks that dragged months into their new fiscal years, and the next budget could prove no different.
That means the voices of advocates for VITA and other critical services will be no less important in maintaining Congressional backing for tax preparation, asset building, financial education and other supports that families need.
The past year certainly demonstrated that, as the President initially called for VITA funding of only $8 million for FY12 and advocates successfully worked with Congress to hold funding steady at $12 million; those advocacy efforts seem reflected in the President’s welcome, FY13 proposal for VITA.
By Sean Noble, Director of Public Policy & Research