Posted January 27, 202112:45 pm
Volunteer tax preparers would help 2,000 local families get $2 million in refunds in a normal year.
But this is anything but a normal year, said Matt Brady, who organizes the efforts of the Lorain County Free Tax Prep Coalition on behalf of the United Way.
With the challenges of the pandemic in mind, he's marshaling a small army to help low-income families file.
"These are people who really, really need the help and can't afford to go to a paid preparer," he said.
Households that ask for coalition volunteers' help have an average adjusted gross income of just $23,280.
Brady said they rely on tax refunds to make ends meet, and most use the money to pay bills.
Accountant Emily Rhoad, who used to run the program and continues to volunteer, said one client's story has stayed in her mind for years.
Rhoad was on duty at Riverview Plaza in downtown Elyria on a slow day one tax season.
"This young woman walked in and she looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders," Rhoad recalled.
The woman thumped a stack of papers on the desk and said she hadn't filed taxes in seven years. She was carrying an immense sense of guilt, said Rhoad, especially because she owed back child support.
Going through the woman's paperwork, it became apparent that she was due a refund for every year she hadn't filed. Rhoad said that client left walking tall, her child support debt completely wiped out.
Brady said the volunteer tax prep program was launched years ago to help working families living in poverty claim the earned income tax credit.
United Way volunteers discovered a lot of families were eligible but weren't claiming the "extremely beneficial" credit, he said.
With the help of community partners such as the Elyria and Lorain public library systems, tax volunteers have righted that issue for thousands of households.
Jennifer Harmon, marketing and program coordinator for the Elyria Public Library System, said tax assistance fits into the library's mission of providing timely and accurate information to the community.
Susan Spivey, main branch manager for the Lorain Public Library, said it makes sense to help, since librarians have been providing tax forms to residents for decades.
Phones have been ringing off the hook in recent weeks, with callers asking when tax-filing assistance will become available, she said.
Appointments begin Tuesday, Feb. 2. Call 211 or (800) 275-6106.
Because of the pandemic, masks and social distancing will be required this year.
Clients will be allowed to drop off paperwork or set up in-person appointments.