Fraud, illiteracy, clunky software challenge volunteer tax preparers

George Eldridge, left, discussed his experiences with the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program at the Tuesday luncheon of the Perry Kiwanis Club. Kiwanis Club President Tricia Steffen welcomed Eldridge to the meeting. Photo by Perry Kiwanis Club Secretary Doug Wood

The tax season will soon be at an end. At the Tuesday meeting of the Perry Kiwanis Club, George Eldridge of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program discussed this service for low-income and elderly taxpayers.

Eldridge has been a volunteer with this program for the past 11 years. This program offers tax preparation services free of charge to people 55 years old and older. They must also have a yearly income of less than $54,000. A family may make up to $75,000 a year and still qualify for the free service.

This program currently operates out of the basement of the First Presbyterian Church in Perry. The volunteers are accredited by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service each year.

Eldridge said most of the clients come from the Perry area, although some come from farther away. For example, someone came in from Newton for assistance, Eldridge said. About 180 families will be served, and about three will be from out of town.

Eldridge said about 40 percent of those served are Latino. There are also people from other countries, he said, and recent years has seen an increase in the number of Burmese taxpayers. Virtually all of the immigrant laborers who use the tax-preparation service work at Tyson Fresh Meats.

One of the main challenges the tax preparers face is a language barrier. Many of the people served are illiterate, Edlridge said, so the preparers use a smartphone app to communicate with non-English speakers who also cannot read in their native language. Another challenge is the IRS software, which is very bad and hard to use, Eldridge said.

he said tax fraud has become such a big problem that the state of Iowa now takes an average of eight weeks to mailout refunds after filing because of fraud issues.

According to Eldrige, a great satisfaction is that most of the money from refunds is spent locally. Around $367,673 was refunded from the U.S. Treasury, he said, and about $68,601 was refunded by the state of Iowa.

Eldridge was welcomed to the Tuesday luncheon by Perry Kiwanis Club President Tricia Steffen.


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