United Way seeks volunteers to help with tax refunds


River Chapdelaine | staff writer

The one thing students hear again and again is that they need to have some sort of work experience through internships or volunteer work — and that having it is essential to getting that edge when applying for jobs.

If you’re an upperclassman scrambling to get a resume together, or someone who genuinely wants to give to the community, United Way, a Pittsburgh-based nonprofit, is sponsoring free tax preparation for financially struggling families that we all can be apart of.

This organization is recruiting 500 volunteers for its 2020 Free Tax Preparation Campaign. The volunteers will work with low-income families to complete tax returns, to ensure they receive full refunds they’re entitled to.

“A tax refund can have a significant impact on a low-income family, which can mean the difference between putting food on the table, keeping the heat on and having transportation to get to work – or not,” said Alena Anderson, Program Manager United Way of Southwestern Pennsylvania’s United for Families. “Many people come to us unaware of the tax credits or refunds available to them. Our volunteers play an important role in identifying tax benefits and helping secure these critical refunds.”

For those who are interested in this opportunity, you need no prior tax preparation experience to volunteer. The program runs from January through mid-April. The way they are able to be so effective through this program is that they partner with the IRS to give in-person and online resources and training. In the past year, there were 494 volunteers who helped with 10,645 tax returns that ended up generating $15,409,452 in refunds.

These volunteers helped families obtain Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), one of the nation’s largest anti-poverty programs, which lets qualifying filers pay less federal tax, pay no tax or even get a tax refund of $500 to nearly $6,300.

The benefits include continuing education credits that are available for professionals and internships for students.

“Taxes can be confusing for people, which can be a barrier to completing returns,” Anderson said. “Our volunteers – from retirees to students, people starting out in their careers or those more seasoned – are trained to make tax preparation less intimidating. And because it’s free of charge, qualifying taxpayers can apply more of their refund toward basic needs. We’ve seen people break down into tears of relief when they see the refund coming their way. It’s amazing the difference it can make.”

The deadline for volunteers is Jan. 1. Volunteers who live in Allegheny, Westmoreland, Fayette, Greene and Washington counties are preferred and can sign up at www.swpafreetaxes.org.