Ron Wicks: Tax Prep Superman

Ron Wicks stands in front of the camera and smiles

At the end of 2018, as Ron Wicks headed (reluctantly) into retirement from the IRS, he sat down to talk about his legacy: playing a key role in helping to bring millions of dollars back to our County through a partnership with United Way, the IRS Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA), County of San Diego Health & Human Service Agency (HHSA), and multiple other key non-profit partners.

As an IRS Senior Stakeholder Relationship Tax Consultant for San Diego County since 2001, Ron has been a guiding, gracious force of the hugely successful San Diego Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) Coalition, led by the United Way, which has offered free tax preparation services to low-income taxpayers with a cadre of volunteers who help taxpayers determine if they’re eligible to claim federal tax credits, such as the EITC and the Child Tax Credit.

How did a program go from bringing $500,000 back in federal refunds in 2003 to Tax Year 2017’s $40 million? Let’s listen to Ron as he tells the tale…

About EITC

“State and Federal Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) are cash-back tax credits for working individuals and families. With the combined state and federal credits, qualifying families can receive hundreds, or even thousands back just by filing their taxes.”

About the beginning

“I made a presentation in 2002-2003 to the county supervisors, who gave us $50,000. Along with another partner, we received additional funding from the Anne E. Casey Foundation. We started with a site in Escondido with the support of the North County Collaborative and in the south, The Bronze Triangle Community Development Corporation. That first year we brought back $500,000 in federal refunds – probably 3,000 returns.”

Success in 2018

“In 2018 [tax year 2017] the San Diego EITC Coalition served over 31,000 individual households by providing free tax preparation. That resulted in more than $40 million in Federal and State refunds [8,244 of those households received over $14 million in Federal EITC refunds].”

Why the program was successful

“The Community Action Partnership [CAP], under the umbrella of the Health & Human Service Agency [HHSA], which administers programs that help low-income families, saw the potential numbers we could bring in if we could just get people involved to file their taxes. ‘Let’s see if we can do it,’ they said. On the flight back from a statewide CAP conference, the CAP Director asked me, ‘What do you think about putting a requirement to do the EITC with our family self-sufficiency contracts [for those seeking rental assistance]?’ That’s really how it blew up.”

About United Way’s critical role

“United Way’s partnership and participation helped us go county wide. They helped get the partners involved and up to speed and showed them how important EITC was, not just for the refunds but to comply with tax law. And, as we progressed and increased our impact, United Way helped with outreach and translation into other languages.”

About expanding countywide & horse-trading

“At the time we were looking to expand, AARP TaxAide sites were only doing taxes for people 55 and older. That was their focus; they didn’t want to be involved with the VITA Program. AARP TaxAide was always asking me for additional IRS-loaned equipment to serve more taxpayers. The CAP director wanted to expand the VITA Program countywide, so I set up a meeting with AARP’s state coordinator and the CAP director, who asked the AARP State Coordinator, ‘What do you need?’ They said, ‘Computers and printers.’”

“The CAP Director had a discretionary fund, so the director said, ‘I’m willing to give AARP TaxAide $75,000 towards purchasing computers and printers if you’ll open your doors to low-income taxpayers below 55.” The AARP State Coordinator said yes. Now we had countywide access to the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites plus the AARP TaxAide sites.”

About Comic-Con comparison

“In 2010, a senior policy analyst at National University System Institute for Policy Research examined the impact of EITC in San Diego County. Among his key findings that year:

  • 1 out of 4 EITC-eligible taxpayers fail to claim the credit, forfeiting tens of millions of dollars each year
  • The annual direct spending of EITC refunds in San Diego County is more than three times greater than the direct economic impact of Comic‐Con.

“People think of Comic-Con and all this revenue coming into San Diego, but equating it with EITC puts it on a whole different level. If all this was the case nine years ago, it’s probably even truer today.”

About his retirement…

“I want to ensure that the next person who plays this part has all the tools they need to make this even more successful. I hope our partnership with United Way continues— it’s a big part of our program and why it works. I mean, 30,000+ tax returns, $40 million in refunds. That’s a huge benefit to our community.”

About trust & leaving legacies

“I always volunteered at the free tax sites. People would come in apprehensive, worried about money, worried about the IRS. And they’d walk out knowing they had a $3,000 to $5,000 refund coming! When I started in 2002, I tried to take the IRS out of the equation — just the name. I tried to get people to trust me as Ron. You have to build up trust … a trust that people who come into these sites will feel safe. Then they’ll go home and tell their friends to file their taxes. That’s our biggest marketing tool, word of mouth. But first, you must have trust.”

“I’m so proud that, being a native San Diegan, I was able to help create this program and have it be successful and so impactful to so many people. Honestly, I’m very sad to leave it.”

Ron, we’re wishing you the best in whatever you do next: teaching students, writing books, and continuing to volunteer. We thank you for all your years of dedication, perseverance, and service to the San Diego Community and for the hundreds of thousands of San Diego County taxpayers whose lives you changed.