Tax-help program seeks volunteers

NYACK - For those who find pleasure in filling out income tax forms or simply want to help others in need bring in larger tax refunds, the United Way of Rockland County could use your help.

The Nyack agency is seeking volunteers to help with its Tax Assistance Program as tax preparers, experts, filers, greeters and translators. Now in its second year, the program provides free tax help for low-income workers.The workers are often eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is offered by both the federal government and New York state, but often do not take full advantage of it, or claim it at all.

"So many people don't even know they qualify," said Diane Serratore, the local United Way's director of community impact. "We all realize it's getting harder and harder for some of the folks to be able to live in Rockland."

The United Way is administering the program for the Internal Revenue Service. Volunteers don't need to have any prior experience.

Earlier this year, Julie Weinstein was one of two volunteer coordinators, meaning she did a little bit of everything. She volunteered about 15 hours a week. She and her husband, David, plan to volunteer next year as greeters.

"It is a very rewarding program because you see a real benefit to these people and nobody has to put their hand in their pockets," said Weinstein, who lives in New City. "It was an excellent project in a lot of respects. We were able to help needy people bring money into their budget that they didn't know they were entitled to."

She said there were plenty of roles for those intimidated by filling out someone else's tax return.

"There is room for all different kinds of people," Weinstein said.

Serratore expected the greatest need would be for tax preparers.

Three-hour sessions to train volunteers to become IRS-certified tax preparers are scheduled for Sunday and Dec. 17. Volunteers can also train themselves on their home computer via the Internet.

Serratore said the volunteers' are asked to commit to working a three-hour shift each week from Jan. 22 through early April.

Most of the appointments would be scheduled in the evenings and Sundays, she said.

Last year, 41 TAP volunteers completed 55 tax returns, bringing in a total of $253,000 in refunds - $105,000 in Earned Income Tax Credits and $148,000 in other credits, Serratore said. Tax preparation was done at sites in Haverstraw, Nyack and Spring Valley.

If enough people join, Serratore said the United Way would like to send tax preparers to specific workplaces in the county so employees can fill out their taxes.

Working families earning about $35,000 or less a year could be eligible for the income tax credits.

The IRS estimated that 20 percent of eligible taxpayers do not claim the earned-income tax credit. That added up to about $7 million in unclaimed tax credits for Rockland residents alone in 2003.

A different, but broader, service known as the Rockland Tax Aide Program is also seeking volunteer counselors and greeters. It is sponsored by AARP and the IRS.

"The people who do come tend to be senior citizens and low- to moderate-income individuals, some of whom are eligible for the EITC," said Bill Lathrop, a volunteer with the Tax Aide Program.

The program has been around for 15 years. Last year, its 40 volunteers filed about 3,000 returns at 12 sites around the county, said Lathrop, a retired Ramapo Central school district administrator.

Reach Khurram Saeed at or 845-578-2412.

-------- Rockland Tax Assistance Program

- Tax preparers will receive IRS training at local sites on either Dec. 10 or Dec. 17 to become IRS-certified tax preparers. Online training will also be available. - Greeters help clients complete information forms. Training for these volunteer positions will take place in January. - Tax experts will answer phone calls during a TAP shift, again held in the mornings, afternoons and evenings. - Electronic tax filer will enter tax return data. - Translators are needed in all languages for all shifts. Information: Call Diane Serratore at 845-358-8929, Ext. 14 or e-mail at

Rockland Tax Aide Program Here's what's needed: - Counselors, from Feb. 1 to April 15; preferably with a math or accounting background, and some computer knowledge. - Greeters, from Feb. 1 to April 15; should have organizational and administrative skills, a pleasant personality and an interest in helping people. Duties include checking tax returns for accuracy and appropriate documents. Information: Call Bill Lathrop at 845-357-3025 or the Rockland County Office for the Aging at 845-364-2110.

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