Help in filing income tax returns is being offered to elderly residents of Prince George's and Montgomery counties by local agencies on aging. That help is needed may be assumed from the approximately 30 pages of instructions, in fine print, that in recent years have been included in the package for the two-page, simplified Form 1040.
In Prince George's County, 16 volunteers have been attending training workshops since early October in preparation for aiding elderly residents with their income tax forms from mid-January to mid-April. The basic course was held twice a week for 11 weeks, and a refresher course was held for persons who had served as aides at least two years. Twenty seniors are enrolled in the refresher course.
The program is conducted by the Department of Services and Programs for the Aging and is corrdinated for the sixth consecutive year by Bess R. Garcia. The American Association of Retired Persons-National Retired Teachers Association (AARP-NRTA), which has long been an advocate of tax aide programs, is a cooperating agency.
The aides will serve individually or as teams at least four hours a week at one of eight or 10 locations in the county. Specific information on the hours, days and locations of the tax aide stations will be announced in the January issue of the Senior Cititzen, in local papers and by the broadcast media.
According to Garcia, an unusual aspect of the Prince George's program is that aides are qualified and authorized to prepare the actual tax returns for those who require it. Aides will even go to a shut-in's home. Out-of-pocket expenses can be reimbursed, but no remuneration is paid nor are gratuities accepted.
To obtain the services of a volunteer tax aide, seniors must make appointments in advance by calling 350-6666, ext. 523. Appointments are confirmed by letters, which also will describe the information and data that must be brought to the meeting. It is important to bring that information, Garcia said, because an aide can provide little help without the right information. More than 1,500 seniors in Prince George's County used the service last year compared with the 150 who aided five years ago.
In Montgomery County, the program is conducted by the Division of Elder Affairs under the direction of Joe Price. The program is five years old and gets support from AARP-NRTA.
Recruiting of volunteers is commonly done through the local media during late November. Some of the veterans of this program have taken or are taking workshop courses on taxation at Montgomery College or the University College of the University of Maryland.
From late January through mid-April, volunteers will be stationed at about 10 locations in the county. Specific locations, days and hours of service are announced in local newspapers and the senior citizens newsletter, Highlights. By that time a special number, 279-8351, will be in operation for use by seniors who need help.
Appointments are coordinated in the division office. A special advantage of this arrangement, Price said, is that seniors with specific needs can be put in contact with the tax aide or resource person who has special expertise in the needed area, such as real estate, investments or special medical expense deductions.
Last year, about 1,000 Montgomery seniors were given help in income tax preparation.
Most tax adies willingly give up their time to help others. Why do they do it? E. H. DeSoucey, a second year aide in Prince George's County, said that the expressions of appreciation from the people he helps are his reward. He cited the case of an elderly woman who received a ltter from the Internal Revenue Service because she had not filed a return for three years. She did not file, she said, because she did not believe she had enough income to require it. It turned out that she was substantially correct, and the matter was amicably resolved.
Several days later the woman's entire family - her children and grandchildren - came in to express personal thanks for the help and reassurance given to grandma.
"People may be hesitant at first, and even hide information from the tax aide. But when they are assured that aides only try to help - to keep them out of trouble or to get all the tax benefits to which they are entitled - then they open up, and then we can really help," DeSoucey said.