Council aids seniors with taxes

ALBANY -- The SOWEGA Council on Aging is reaching out to the community hoping to find additional volunteers and clients for a program they say has significant value to the community.

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program has a tax assistance service, sponsored by the council, that has helped more than 400 people since early last month. With a few weeks left to go in tax season, officials connected to the program are reaching out to find those still needing help in filling out their returns as well as volunteers to help with the effort.

"This is instrumental to the seniors because it provides a free service to individuals with low to moderate incomes," said RSVP Project Director Marilyn Westbrook.

The service is beneficial because many senior residents may not know how to fill the forms out, program volunteers say.

"They change the laws on how to fill them out every year," said Larry Sellers, a volunteer with RSVP.

Since the inception of the tax assistance service, officials have seen signs that it is working.

"We see the same faces each year," Westbrook said. "That tells us we are doing a good job."

Seeing the sense of relief clients show once they leave the center is reason enough to offer the service, Sellers said.

"When you see them walk out of here and they don't have to worry about taxes for another year, it really takes the burden off of them," he said.

Volunteers are trained and certified under the supervision of the Internal Revenue Service's Tax Counseling for the Elderly.

"Our volunteers must be certified," said Sellers.

This year, there are 12 trained counselors as well as eight client facilitators to assist those seeking assistance in the Albany area. Tax counselors usually work until April 13.

For nearly 40 years, the AARP tax program has continued to grow. It is the nation's largest free tax assistance and preparation service for individuals with low to moderate incomes. Services have been available in Dougherty and surrounding counties since the early 1980s.

Last year, 553 clients in the region were assisted through the program. An average of five clients are helped each hour.

"We saw 61 people in the first two days this year," Westbrook said.

Volunteers are able to assist about 30 clients each day.

While the service has been traditionally geared toward those ages 55 or older, the program rarely turns anyone away.

"We generally don't turn people away unless they are out of scope for us," Sellers said. "We try not to put an age range on it."

Some of the forms considered "out of scope" for the tax counselors include, but are not limited to, Schedule C, Schedule E, 2106, 3903 and 8615. Those within the 55-older age range are encouraged to apply as volunteers.

Those who have not filed their tax returns and need assistance are encouraged to call (229) 432-1131 to schedule an appointment.

Services are provided free of charge at 309 Pine Ave. from 9 a.m.-3 p.m on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Those seeking assistance are encouraged to bring with them the tax information they have for the year and their tax return from the previous year if it's available.