Tax Preparation Program Good for Business

Every January, many minds are on the Bowl Championship Series games or the Super Bowl. Some are daunted at the prospect of conducting business under the constraints of a brand new budget, and still others are making plans to hit or beat a new annual forecast. For me and a small band of hardy (no pun intended) professionals, our New Year’s focus is on providing quality community service as volunteer tax preparers for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) program offered by Community Action Project.
In fact, according to the IRS, 20 to 25 percent of eligible taxpayers fail to claim the credit, which could amount to as much as much as $4,824 going back into the pockets of a family with two children, as much as $2,917 to a family with one child, or up to $438 for a worker with no children. The credit represents a tremendous financial shot in the arm of those clients. Thanks to the service of volunteers, those families can better afford quality housing, transportation, health care and education.
Life-to-date results from the program indicate that nearly $193 million has been returned to the Tulsa economy. That amount should reach approximately $220 million after the 2009 filing season. I volunteer at the CAP site in the Bank of Oklahoma branch in the Springdale Shopping Center, near Pine and Lewis. That site has traditionally been CAP’s busiest, contributing greatly to the approximately 17,000 tax returns filed by organization volunteers and the nearly $24 million in refunds last year. A volunteer in my eighth year with this program, I have seen firsthand the impact of this program on clients’ lives.
I first heard of CAP in 2001 while attending a meeting of Singles Available for Community Service (www.tulsacs.us) in Tulsa. At each monthly SACS meeting, staff members from various Tulsa-area charitable endeavors pitch the need for volunteers. Pam Smith, EITC and Volunteer Manager for Community Action Project, presented the CAP tax preparation opportunity to SACS one evening, and her words inspired me to become a CAP volunteer tax preparer.
According to Community Action Project’s Web site at www.captc.org, the organization was established in 1974 by utilizing federal grants meant to help migrant farmworkers who faced difficult working conditions. The CAP Web site describes how the organization “evolved into a multi-program agency that aims to strengthen families by giving them the tools to permanently build better lives.” The EITC utilizes an “income support” approach to poverty alleviation. As congress has mandated the Earned Income Tax Credit, it is a work support that helps families make up the difference for low wage jobs while encouraging them to continue working in order to better their financial circumstances. If not claimed on the client’s tax return, the money would not come back into the hands of local residents to help them financially but would stay in the Treasury doing nothing to assist local residents and families pay their bills.
CAP’s EITC program, working with guidance from the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program of the IRS, is a free tax preparation service offered to assist low-income individuals and families in their effort to obtain EITC. Now in its 15th year, the service is offered at eight sites spread throughout the Tulsa area. The CAP tax preparation sites are staffed mostly by volunteer tax preparers, who work under the supervision of volunteer and paid site coordinators. Software used for tax preparation is provided by the IRS, and all volunteers are required to be IRS certified.
I attended SACS meetings because I was looking for rewarding volunteer work to fill some spare time I had on my hands, and at CAP, I found it. I was interested in CAP because it gave me the opportunity to work directly with those who needed my service as an accountant, and it allowed me to help those I served to become better consumers and workers. Many of CAP’s clients are unable to obtain EITC refunds for themselves due to lack of education or knowledge of tax return preparation techniques.
In recent years, it seems more clients have bank accounts, perhaps thanks to a cooperative effort with Bank of Oklahoma. Volunteer BOk employees set up free checking and savings accounts for clients, both enabled for direct deposit of refunds. Also, more clients seem to have secured reliable transportation. Particularly satisfying to me is when I see more clients qualify for the savers tax credit, which means they have started to save and build wealth.
All of this is good for our community and for local business. The program not only offers clients a way to climb of out of poverty, but it also points the way toward becoming better employees, consumers and citizens. As we begin the 2009 filing season, which is expected to be one of the busiest for CAP and its volunteers due to the economic downturn, CAP’s tax program continues to be a blessing to its clients, as well as the volunteers who serve in it. All who might or know someone who might qualify for the service, or who might like to volunteer to assist, should contact Pam Smith of the CAP office at (918) 382-3225 for more information.
Paul Hardy is a tax analyst with Williams in Tulsa, representing one of its pipeline subsidiaries in ad valorem tax matters before various western state taxing authorities. He is also an active volunteer for Junior Achievement and various other worthy causes benefitting children and their parents.



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