A local organization is trying to get out the word that it is coordinating free services to eligible people to get help preparing tax returns next year, and that it needs people to provide that help.
Star Perkins, community development officer at Opportunity Link Inc., said the organization is sharing an $80,000 grant from the U. S. Internal Revenue Service to expand Volunteer Income Tax Assistance across the state, and wants to find people interested in volunteering.
“Just as many as we can, ” Perkins said this morning. “There is no particular goal, we just are going to try to help as many people as possible. ”
The program, referred to as VITA, offers free tax filing services for eligible low- to middle-income people and eligible small business owners and sole proprietors.
Perkins said the grant — Opportunity Link will receive $7,514 — will allow the expansion of the service locally. The service is offered to people and families earning less than $50,000 in 2011, and business owners with Schedule C income of no more than $25,000.
People with farm or foreign income and people with rental income are not eligible. People who have had debts cancelled due to bankruptcy also are not eligible.
This is the third year Opportunity Link has sponsored the VITA program in the region. Perkins said that, last year, more than a dozen local volunteers prepared and e-filed taxes for more than hundred residents, resulting in more than $100,000 in refunds on the Hi-Line.
Statewide, last tax season community volunteers filed more than 15,500 federal tax returns at free tax sites.
The grant funding will be used by Opportunity Link for recruiting volunteers and partners in the project, training the volunteers and promoting the service.
Montana Credit Unions for Community Development was the lead agency in applying for the $80,000 IRS grant.
Opportunity Link and its partners in the project also will offer tax clinics and kiosks in the region. The kiosks will have a certified tax preparer on site to offer assistance. People can prepare their own taxes at the kiosks using computers with e-file tax software.
The Opportunity Link VITA program will expand to five sites set up so far, with a kiosk at the Havre Public Library, sit-down preparation and a kiosk at Aaniiih Nakoda College in Fort Belknap, sit-down preparation and a kiosk at the Rocky Boy Family Resource Center, sit-down preparation at the Glacier County Annex in Cut Bank, sit-down preparation and a kiosk at the Browning Community Development Corporation in Browning, and tax clinics to be scheduled at the Harlem Senior Center, the Kills-at-Night Center in Hays and the Chinook Senior Center, among others.
People interested in volunteering to help prepare classes should call Perkins at 265-3699. She said classes will be scheduled to train the volunteers Jan. 11-12, and online classes are available right now.
People can find more information about VITA and other free tax preparation services online at www.montanafreefile.org/.