AARP’s Tax Aide program is back, with some changes but the same ability to help senior citizens and low-income residents complete and file 2021 taxes.
Although Tax Day is officially three months away, now is the time to start planning, gathering important papers and records and setting up an appointment with a tax prep expert. The Tax Aide program starts taking appointments on Jan. 19.
The program has four dedicated lines at the Chambersburg Recreation Center and Waynesboro American Legion Post 15. The lines are staffed Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-3 p.m. The numbers are:
- 223-842-1696, and
The appointment line for the McConnellsburg American Legion Post is 223-842-1702. It is staffed from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. Taxpayers can make appointments online here.
The importance of volunteers
The tax aide program is staffed by volunteers who are certified tax preparers. Counselors take a week-long tax prep course, becoming familiar with software used to prepare the returns. Facilitators take a half day class on procedures and ethics. Then they have to pass an IRS test in order to be certified before they can actually go to work preparing taxes.
They must do that every single tax year, local Tax Aide coordinator Roger Schwalm said.
Everyone involved in the program must also take an ethics test to prove they know how to handle confidential information and what they should and shouldn’t do with it.
“Volunteers are the heart and brain (of the orogram),” Svhwalm said. “They offer many hours of work to make the program function.”
They spend more hours training to get certified. Then they must be certified by IRS on a number of topics. Then they must pass tests on Standards of Conduct, Intake and Interview, and Policy and Procedures. The Counselors must also take a test on advanced tax law to stay current with law and implementation changes that occur yearly.
“The training and dedication of the volunteer tax preparers are factors that inspire confidence in people who use the free service,” Schwalm said. “I can’t say enough about the quality of volunteers, their dedication to the program and their willingness to serve.”
Adjusting to a pandemic
In pre-pandemic years, clients showed up at program locations in the morning and waited their turn in line to get their taxes done, without appointments.
That changed in 2020. With the tax season barely half over, pandemic restrictions closed the program down. Clients had to either find another service to prepare their taxes or do their own.
Last year brought a different set of challenges. After closing the program early in 2020, AARP went to work figuring out how to continue while keeping both their volunteers and clients safe.
AARP spent the summer of 2020 improving its service delivery, Schwalm said. The result was a lot of extra work for everyone. Volunteers manned phones. Clients used to just stopping by the nearest prep center and waiting their turn now made appointments.
Everyone did their best, but it wasn’t always easy.
This year, the program has five phone lines for making appointments. Or taxpayers can make appointments online at the AARP website, if so inclined. When the taxpayer makes their appointment, they need to tell the volunteer, if there are any special issues that will need to be addressed by the counselor. One issue would be if there is more than one return to be prepared, as additional returns require additional appointments.
This year the taxpayer will meet with the counselor preparing their return. As in past years the counselor will conduct the interview and review of the tax and intake forms with the taxpayer. This will take about 15-20 minutes. The taxpayer gets a receipt for their tax documents and is asked to wait in their car or another area while the return is prepared and checked. During that time, the volunteer preparer completes the tax return, checks it over and prints it out. The taxpayer rejoins the counselor to review and sign the return. Schwalm anticipate that the process will take from 60-75 minutes.
A new location opens this year in the Waynesboro/Greencastle area since the Shady Grove Community Center is not available. The American Legion Post 15 on East Main Street offered their facility this year instead.
The Tax Aide program will provide free tax service at these locationsand times:
- American Legion Post 15, Waynesboro: Mondays and Fridays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. starting Feb. 4.
- American Legion Post 561 in McConnellsburg: Wednesdays, 9 a.m.-2p.m., starting on Feb. 9;
- Chambersburg Recreation Center Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, 8 a.m.-3p.m., starting on Feb. 1.
Volunteers start taking appointments for all locations in one week, on Jan. 19.
“We look forward to getting the Chambersburg Tax-Aide program started this year,” Schwalm said. “(We are) anxious to provide free tax service to the community that we have served for the past 38 years.”
Anyone interested in helping as a volunteer should call (717) 263-5479 for information.