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Volunteers needed to help low-income residents with tax preparation

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Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Tracey Burton (center) oversees the training of Donna Taylor (right) and Millie Napoletano (left) as volunteer tax preparers for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches in Harrison on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. The organization has people who volunteer their time to do taxes for free for needy families.
vndtaxpreparers122116
Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Tracey Burton (center) oversees the training of Donna Taylor (right) and Millie Napoletano (left) as volunteer tax preparers for the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches in Harrison on Tuesday, Dec. 20, 2016. The organization has people who volunteer their time to do taxes for free for needy families.

While Dec. 25 is the date foremost in most people’s minds, an organization that helps low-income residents prepare their taxes is focused on Dec. 31.

That’s the deadline for volunteers to sign up to help The Money in Your Pocket Coalition, a United Way program that prepares taxes for low-income families for free.

Last tax season’s effort resulted in more than $10 million in refunds for local residents, including more than $5 million in earned income tax credits.

Kiandra Foster, program manager for United for Families, said the program had 326 volunteers in Southwestern Pennsylvania for the 2016 tax season. That included 278 in Allegheny County, who dedicated more than 13,500 hours to prepare more than 8,100 tax returns.

This year, United Way officials are hoping for more than 400 volunteers.

According to Angela Reynolds, United Way’s director of PA 2-1-1 Southwest, their help is vital.

“Volunteers help us make a difference in the lives of thousands of hard-working individuals and families in our region,” Reynolds said. “… This money might be the help local working families need to keep the heat on through the winter or put dinner on the table for their children.”

Those who need help with their tax return can make an appointment starting Jan. 11.

Households with a total annual income up to $54,000 may qualify for free in-person tax preparation. Free online assistance is available for households with a total income up to $64,000.

Help needed in A-K Valley

The program will operate two sites in the Alle-Kiski Valley — at the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches at 1913 Freeport Road, Harrison, and Central Presbyterian Church at 305 Allegheny St., Tarentum. Hours vary at both locations.

Both sites are seeking volunteers, said Tracey Burton, the Association of Churches’ volunteer income tax assistance coordinator.

“We need about 10 more volunteers locally,” Burton said. “We do it because it gives back to the community. It gives money back to low-income individuals and families.”

Backgrounds vary

Volunteers come from all backgrounds and start with varying levels of tax preparation experience. Training is provided to those new to tax preparation, and all preparers are certified by the IRS before they work on returns.

“Everybody’s tax situation is different, but together we reason our way through it and are able to come up with solutions,” said Rick Shaw, a retired attorney who has been a volunteer tax preparer for three years.

Shaw plans to volunteer for 2017; more than 90 percent of last year’s campaign volunteers said they hope to return for this year’s tax season.

Shaw, of Mt. Lebanon, said volunteering has given him a new perspective on what some families have to do to get by: “I have come to really appreciate how low-income people in our area live, how they manage to make it work,” he said. “It is pretty humbling to see that.”

Matthew Medsger is a contributing writer.

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