Free tax prep available to some area families

JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) – For the third year in a row, the United Way of Northeast Arkansas is preparing taxes for low and middle income families at no cost.

The United Way partnered with St. Bernards Medical Center for an event Saturday, called Creating Awareness of Savings and Health, or CASH.

The hospital provided free heart health screenings, while the United Way recruited volunteer tax preparers to assist anyone making a certain amount per year. One organizer, however, says the amount of need exceeds the number of volunteers.

"I use the visual of having an ocean of need when we have only a hose to run it through," Paula Robertson said. "We love our preparers, and that's awesome that we have an increase. But we could use far more."

Robertson is the community impact coordinator at the local United Way. She was approached by the Internal Revenue Service, or IRS, three years ago. The revenue service found that many families in the greater Jonesboro area had failed to receive an Earned Income Tax Credit, which amounted to nearly $4 million.

"I think that would buy a lot of diapers and pay a lot of utilities and rent," Robertson said.

A handful of volunteers are now readily available to prepare taxes for free. Those making $45,000 or less sit down with one of nine volunteers, who all try to maximize people's tax returns.

"It saves you having to pay somebody 80 to 100 dollars or more to get your taxes done because they do it here free of charge," Burl Turman of Jonesboro said. "It's nice that these people come out here and help someone like that."

This marks the second year Turman has come to the St. Bernards Auditorium to get his taxes done for free. He's even talked up the service to his friends, which the United Way hopes to assist about 100 families this year.

"Every penny that you can scrape or save with the Earned Income Tax Credit and different things is the ideal time," said Debra Taylor, the CASH chairwoman.

Taylor is in charge of recruiting the volunteers, and she says their payment comes from the satisfaction of giving back to the community.

"It makes you feel really good when you get them taken care of," she added.

For those who missed the free tax preps Saturday, the United Way is offering additional help. The volunteer preparers will take appointments on Friday and Saturday mornings until April 10. Call the United Way at 870-935-3658 to schedule a meeting with one of the volunteers.

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