AARP offers tax help to elderly, low-income

Published 11:58 pm Saturday, March 21, 2009

Alberta Jackson hasn’t yet made out a wish list for how she will spend her income tax return. She doesn’t even know if she is getting any money back from the Internal Revenue Service.

But no matter if she faces a potential fee or refund, her pocket book will still have a little more green than this time last year.

Jackson sat in a small, quiet room while a trained, certified tax worker filed her taxes. And it was absolutely free through the AARP Tax-Aide Program.

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“It’s a blessing to be able to get this done for free,” Jackson said.

Jerry Mittleman, AARP’s Mid-Alabama state coordinator, said the organization saw the need for volunteer tax preparers in Selma because of the high amount of elderly people and low-income families. AARP does not currently have a West Alabama coordinator, so Mittleman directs the first-year program inside Educational Outreach Ministries Inc. at 720 First Ave. The office is open each Friday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. by appointment only.

“We do it by appointment because we don’t want people to come in and sit around all day,” said Evelyn Cox, Selma AARP chapter president.

However, anyone who walks in and needs assistance won’t leave without getting help.

Although April 15 is the last day to file taxes, April 10 is the last Friday of the month, and the local Tax-Aide service will close then.

Eight volunteers from the Selma area went through the equivalent of two weeks of training and earned certification from the IRS and AARP.

“The training was pretty good, but it’s not until you sit down and do it that you really know what you’re doing,” said Lucille Williams, an AARP member who drives from Marion to volunteer.

Tax-Aide offers assistance with income and cash-only business returns and other simple forms. The program does not offer help for farmers, businesses with inventories or large estates.

The primary focus is on the elderly and economically disadvantaged, but anyone who needs help can get it through the program.

“We’re motivated to get the service established,” Mittleman said. “I have worked as a paid preparer. Trust me, we’re cheaper, and the motivation is different. It’s kind of neat when you can tell a 70-year-old person, ‘you’re getting $300 back.’ It’s not nearly as neat when you’re charging them $160-170.”