October 24, 2021

Program offers free tax return help, filing

The start of tax return season — Feb. 12 — may mean confusion for some on filling out return forms.

But those who made less than $57,000 in 2019 or qualify for Earned Income Credit may be in luck as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program of Cortland County is offering free help for those eligible people filing their tax returns.

The program, in partnership with the Internal Revenue Service, allows for people to get help filing their taxes by certified volunteers or have their return forms filed by the volunteers themselves, said Raimona Rowe, the site coordinator for the program.

Services include:

  • Free federal and state tax preparation.
  • Free federal and state digital filing.
  • Free direct deposit.
  • Free printed copies of returns at the time of filing.

While the program has been going since 2005, this year, because of COVID, Rowe said she can meet people at their cars in parking lots of libraries and organizations for social distancing.

“Kind of like A&W,” she said with a laugh, referring to the fast food chain.

People can pick up information packets at Access to Independence of Cortland County in Cortland and fill them out for their tax returns, Executive Director Aaron Baier said.

From there, Rowe can collect them Saturdays.

Once collected, the forms are then filled out by a volunteer and then are reviewed for errors by another volunteer. All volunteers have to pass an IRS test before they can help with returns.

Each year, she has received a steady number of people who come for help.

“I’ve got a really steady 700 people year after year,” Rowe said.

To learn more

Visit www.cortlandfreetaxes.org

In years past, the program would offer an internship to SUNY Cortland students to help fill out forms, Rowe said. In return, they would learn the basics of tax laws from Rowe while earning school credits.

This year, community residents are taking their place because SUNY students cannot interact closely with the general public because of SUNY Cortland’s COVID-19 guidelines.

“It’s very helpful,” Joanne Brown-Garringer, the executive director of Cortland Chenango Rural Services, said of the program.

Rowe, who was at the rural services office, had about 12 people seek help on Friday, Brown-Garringer said.

“Some people just need help going through help going through the paperwork,” Brown-Garringer said.

Rowe will often call Brown-Garringer before the start of tax return season and let her know the dates she’ll be available, Brown-Garringer said. Brown-Garringer will then refer people seeking help to Rowe or post on the organization’s Facebook page when Rowe is coming.

Rowe is scheduled to be at the organization’s offices on March 3 and 19, Brown-Garringer said.

While COVID-19 has brought changes to the program, Rowe said she is “hopeful it continues to grow.”