Giving Back: AARP Tax-Aide

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Brittany Shepard

AARP is known worldwide as a leading social welfare organization that advocates for retired and aging persons, but many do not know that AARP provides services for everyone, not just the demographic they are often associated with.

According to their website, AARP is a “nonprofit, nonpartisan, social welfare organization with a membership of nearly 38 million that helps people turn their goals and dreams into real possibilities, strengthens communities and fights for the issues that matter most to families — such as health care, employment and income security, and protection from financial abuse.”

One of the most helpful services that AARP offers to the community is their free Tax-Aide program. Phil Cunningham serves as the Tax-Aide District Coordinator for the districts that cover southeast Alabama and northwest Florida.

          “This will be my 7th year volunteering as a volunteer with Tax-Aide,” said Phil. “I provide support for the sites in Dothan and Enterprise…and several other counties in southeast Alabama. I also serve as District Coordinator in northwest Florida over four additional sites.”

AARP’s Tax-Aide program was started in 1968 with just four volunteers in Washington, DC.

“Yes,” said Phil. “2018 is our 50th anniversary!”

In the 50 years that the program has been in action, it has grown to nearly 5,000 sites nationwide that have served over 2.6 million taxpayers.

“In 2016, in Alabama, we had 300 plus volunteers at 41 sites that served 8,500 taxpayers with refunds totaling $10.8 million,” said Phil.

Tax-Aide is a free service to residents of the Wiregrass community, but many do not know that they can take advantage of it. In our Q & A, Phil explains the process for taxpayers and also outlines our our readers can help.

 

  1. What services does the Tax-Aide program offer and to whom?

Tax-Aide provides free Federal and Alabama income tax return preparation for low to moderate income individuals. Our services are available to all ages, and there is no requirement to be a member of AARP. We endeavor to get the taxpayer all the credits and deductions that they have earned.

 

  1. Where can people go for your help and when?

 

We have sites at the Westgate branch of the Houston County Library and at the Senior Center in Enterprise at 2401 Neil Metcalf Road. The times here in Dothan are each Monday and Thursday from 10:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. The Senior Center in Enterprise is Monday and Wednesday from 8:30 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. You may make an appointment at the Enterprise site, but Dothan is first-come, first-served.

 

  1. What is the basic process for folks to use your service?

 

Each taxpayer must sign-in at the receptionist desk, complete an intake sheet and provide a picture ID and social security card for all individuals on the return. They also need to bring the appropriate tax documents. Upon completion they will be assigned to a tax counselor to review the forms and then prepare the tax returns. Each tax return will be reviewed by a second certified counselor to ensure a quality tax return.  If the taxpayer expects a refund and wishes a direct deposit, they must bring a check so that we can transcribe the correct routing number and account number.

 

  1. In your opinion, why is this service so valuable and what is the most rewarding part for you?

 

This service is needed for those in the low to moderate income level as the cost of a paid preparer is often too expensive. We often see taxpayers pay a fee that takes a majority of the tax refund. And, naturally, they are surprised to learn that we do not charge for our services.

 

Additionally, some taxpayers are not able to understand some of the forms that are used to complete their tax return. Our counselors must pass an IRS certification exam each year to qualify to complete the tax returns.

 

  1. How can our reader’s help? Is there a volunteer opportunity and what is the process to volunteer?

 

We have several roles that your readers may fill with Tax-Aide:

 

  • Good with fine print? Become a volunteer tax preparer to complete others tax return. Experience isn’t necessary – we provide training and IRS certification.
  • Love working with people? Client facilitators welcome taxpayers, help organize their paperwork and manage the flow of services.
  • Skilled in all things digital? Technology coordinators manage computer equipment, ensure taxpayer data is secure and provide technical assistance to volunteers at different local sites.
  • Have a knack for running things? Leadership and Administrative volunteers make sure program operations run smoothly manage volunteers, track volunteer assignments and site activities.
  • Speak a second language? We often have a demand for bilingual speakers in all roles, especially dedicated interpreters who can assist other volunteers.
  • Want to help us get the word out? Communication Coordinators promote and help recruit local volunteers.

 

  1. Where can our readers go for more information?

 

Learn more or apply at www.aarpfoundation.org/taxaide or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669). And they may contact Phil Cunningham at pwcinpc@gmail.com

 

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