AARP Tax-Aide volunteers ready to help get millions in refunds

Shawn Hardy
Echo Pilot

Update: 

The Chambersburg AARP's Tax-Aide free tax preparation program is being extended another month to coincide with the IRS changing the filing deadline until May 17.

Appointments can be made Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays through May 14 at the Chambersburg Rec Center.

Volunteers are available by appointment on Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Shady Grove Community Center until April 15, then on Tuesdays only after that.

The final day in McConnellsburg is April 7, as originally scheduled.

Appointments can be made by calling 717-778-4227 or 717-263-5479. Roger Schwalm, local coordinator for the national program, said patience is a virtue when calling for an appointment because only two people are available to answer the calls.

At the website AARPFoundation@org/taxaide, people enter their ZIP code to find a local site and pick from available appointments.

The free program is aimed at senior citizens, but is open to anyone.

Preparation includes federal, state (Pennsylvania and Maryland), local and earned income taxes as well as property tax/rent rebates.

So far this year, volunteers have assisted about 2,000 people.

Original story

The process will be different and two venues have changed, but the goal of the Chambersburg AARP Tax-Aide Program remains the same — to help thousands of local residents get millions of dollars in tax refunds.

Although the program name says "Chambersburg," volunteers also have been helping people at sites in Greencastle, Waynesboro and McConnellsburg for years.

They had to close up shop just six weeks into the tax prep season when COVID-19 hit last year and are preparing for a "radical change" this year as the pandemic continues, according to Roger Schwalm, local coordinator for the national program.

"For 36 years, you could just walk in and get your taxes done," Schwalm said. It wasn't unusual for 30 to 40 people to be sitting in chairs at the Chambersburg Rec Center waiting to be helped on a first-come, first-served basis by the next available counselor, he said.

Tax-aide volunteers, from left Dwight Wagner, Ron Gipe, Walt Heidelbach and Deb College, are shown at the Greencastle Senior Activity Center last year. This year clients from both Waynesboro and Greencastle will be helped at the Shady Grove Community Center.

"We can't do that anymore for everyone's sake," Schwalm said. Instead, appointments will be scheduled in blocks of time.

"In most cases, it will require that the taxpayer have two appointments — one for the normal initial interview to review tax information and forms and a second visit to receive and sign the completed tax return," Schwalm explained.

When clients come through the door, they will be greeted by one of the 30 volunteer facilitators who will help them fill out the intake form and send it electronically to one of the 52 counselors who will prepare the tax return.

The volunteers are "a phenomenal group of people really aligned with community activities. They feel good when people walk away with a smile on their face. That's reward for everything," Schwalm said.

About half of the counselors will be working on-site and half at home. Social distancing will be observed and volunteers will wear masks and sneeze shields.

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The rec center is still the site in Chambersburg, and American Legion Post 561 is still the location in McConnellsburg.

However, both Greencastle and Waynesboro clients will be served at the Shady Grove Community Center since the program's previous locations — the Greencastle Senior Activity Center and the Knights of Columbus in Waynesboro — are closed.

Communications logistics are still being worked out, but people can currently call 717-778-4227 or 717-263-5479. Appointments can also be scheduled online, according to Schwalm, who said additional details will be announced soon.

Volunteers will be at the Shady Grove Community Center on Tuesdays and Thursdays; Chambersburg Recreation Center on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; and the American Legion in McConnellsburg on Wednesdays.

The free program is aimed at senior citizens but is open to anyone.

Preparation includes federal, state (Pennsylvania and Maryland), local and earned income taxes as well as property tax/rent rebates.

It usually serves 3,400 to 3,800 individuals and families, returning about $2.7 million to the community. COVID-19 cut that number to about 1,000 clients and $1 million in refunds last year.

"We felt so bad last year when we had to shut down," Schwalm said. People who were not helped were told they could hold off on filing their 2019 tax returns if they did not owe the government any money.

They can have returns for both 2019 and 2020 prepared this year, according to Schwalm, who said that is something they will need to tell the person scheduling their appointment since it will take longer.

With the added time needed for appointments, he anticipates volunteers will help at least 2,000 people this year, and "it would be great if we get 3,000 ... We're looking forward to getting our community back up where it belongs ... with all other things we have to worry about, taxes won't be one of them."

What to take:

  • Last year’s tax return (whether AARP did it or not)
  • Social Security numbers for taxpayer and dependents
  • W-2s from each employer
  • All 1099 forms (for a variety of miscellaneous income)
  • Brokerage statements (make sure to bring all pages in the statement)
  • Educational and Brokerage forms (1099 B and 1098-T)
  • Forms K1 or W2G
  • All retirement and pension forms (1099-R)
  • For property tax or rent rebate, stamped as paid tax receipts or rent certificate signed by the landlord.