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In-person free tax help for elderly, low-income in short supply this year

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Seniors and others who are used to getting a little free in-person help on their income tax filings may have their work cut out for them this year, as COVID-19 has prompted some groups to pull the plug on such events. However, officials say there is still plenty of help available online.

Emily McVey, executive director of United Way of Lewis and Clark Area, recently told attendees at Hometown Helena, an informal gathering of community members, that AARP Montana was not approved by its national office to do free in-person tax help clinics. She said in other years there are in-person tax clinics at the Rocky Mountain Development Council, Lewis and Clark Library, Good Samaritan Industries, Helena College and East Helena United Methodist Church.

But she said the coronavirus has snuffed many of those events out.

“All of those sites we would normally see around town are not going to happen this year,” she said, later adding it would be “looking very differently due to COVID.”

McVey called the AARP decision “unfortunate,” but added there was no safe way to do it.

“I am looking for more community assistance to help people get their taxes done,” she said.

McVey said Rural Dynamics, which is based in Great Falls, is expected to have clinics for low-income people, seniors and others who qualify at Good Samaritan, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays starting Feb. 1.

“That does significantly limit the number of people who can go to face-to face clinics this year,” she said.

McVey also said that East Helena United Methodist Church will have clinics on Feb. 10 and 24 and March 24, which are Wednesdays, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. She said those on a first-come, first-serve basis and no appointments are necessary.

She said there are other benefits to helping people out with the clinics, noting they usually see $1 million returned in earned income and senior tax credits coming back to the community.

Stacia Dahl, director of communications for AARP Montana, said there will be help from her organization, but no face-to-face preparation.

She said the AARP Foundation Tax Aide leadership team is planning on opening in Montana around the first of February using one of five IRS-approved tax models for tax preparation — most of which are virtual.

“Some sites around the state will not open this year and Helena’s sites opted not to open. However, Billings is planning at this point to open at the Alliance Center using one of the virtual models,” Dahl said.

She said the Tax Aide site locator at www.aarpfoundation.org/taxaide will be available by Friday and will list the tax prep service offered in a particular area. People can also check out the HRDC’s VITA Program (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) at www.myfreetaxes.com.

McVey said seniors have already been contacting United Way, seeking help with their taxes, and they are being directed to services online.
“People are gearing up already,” she said. “They want to get their taxes done.”

And McVey notes United Way is hearing from people who do not have computers or internet access. She encouraged people — such as friends, neighbors and relatives — who know of someone who may need computer help to reach out to them.

McVey said www.myfreetaxes.com is run by H&R Block, so people can get help there.

Kathy Marks, operations director of Rocky Mountain Development Council, said her organization had always hosted a tax clinic one day a week.

“We had to say no this year,” she said, noting they had to abide by county health department COVID-19 guidelines that limit the number of people in their space. She said the clinics were popular.

“The parking lot would be jammed,” she said, adding the staff “brainstormed” on how to provide it this year, “but we can’t open our facility.”

“We think it’s a great service and would like to see it happen,” Marx said.

McVey said United Way is looking for volunteers who could help organize tax documents to be sent along to tax preparers for the elderly, low-income people and folks without internet access. The taxes would be forwarded to preparers and then picked up by the person.

She said training is required and there are different needs and opportunities. People can apply at volunteerhelena.org or call United Way at 406-442-4360.

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