Tax Site Opening Soon
Updated: Mar 22, 2021
The beginning of a new year brings everyone’s least favorite time: tax season. This annual chore is dreaded far and wide, but for low-income families, there are additional barriers. Namely, the prohibitive costs associated with tax preparation. The complex nature of the tax system also prevents many from confidently filing their taxes, and mismanaged returns can result in missed credits or refunds which especially disadvantage those struggling with poverty.
For over fifteen years, Community Action Duluth has been offering free tax services to qualifying families and individuals. Anyone making less than $57,000 a year is able to access the free tax site. Over a thousand households participated last year, with 2215 returns filed. Through the tireless work of IRS-certified volunteers, almost $2 million was refunded to Duluth families. Despite a slight dip in involvement last year due to Covid-19, participation in the program has increased steadily for the past four years.
For those who have participated in the past, this year’s process will look a little different. One may either file virtually or, for those without reliable internet access, drop off documents in person. If you are planning on filing virtually, you will need an email address and a way to take digital pictures of your documents. You will fill out paperwork and upload your supporting documents on the CAD website, and a volunteer will arrange for a Zoom interview with you. Anyone looking to file in person will need to come to CAD’s office to pick up a packet to fill out and return with your tax documents. When dropping off your paperwork, you are required to wear a mask inside the building, and we ask that you practice social distancing. You will then have an interview over the phone. We will be processing returns as we receive them, but missing or incomplete information will delay the process.
Many wouldn’t consider taxes a social justice issue, but it is difficult for the lay-person to navigate tax forms and filing without risking an audit, which leads to unequal access to tax returns. Families spend on average about $200 a year for tax preparation, which for a low-income household can be a considerable chunk of change. This program aims to close the gap and help everyone, regardless of their income or level of education, receive the tax refunds owed to them. Addressing poverty is the guiding principle of our organization, and one way to do that is to ensure that money that is owed to our participants is refunded through their tax filing.
Zayla Asquith-Heinz is the coordinator of the free tax site and has been proudly assisting individuals and families to bring in millions of dollars of refunds over the past few years. She sees the vital need for this work, marveling, “What an incredible way to fight the injustice of a complicated and expensive tax system that inherently privileges the wealthy.” In the future, she is hoping to make the filing system more efficient and user-friendly. Surprisingly, the complications presented by Covid-19 have revealed new methods for filing, like virtual services which can save time.
This program would not be able to run if it weren’t for the time and work put in by our volunteers. Last year, over 60 people volunteered to become IRS certified and help families prepare their taxes. While it is too late to sign up this year, we encourage anyone interested to check out our page of additional volunteer information.