United Way offering free tax preparation for families | News

OTTUMWA — COVID-19 has put a hold on many things over the last year.

But the United Way of Wapello County continues to press on by delivering a valuable service to its residents.

Beginning Monday, the United Way will begin its free annual tax preparation appointments for low- and middle-income families. Families typically have to make a maximum of $54,000 to qualify for the service, but director of community engagement Emma Kain said exceptions can be made.

“We try to keep it at that amount because that’s what the grant requirement is,” she said. “But we try to be flexible for those who really need this service.”

The United Way’s tax service is volunteer-driven. However, volunteers must test and be certified to handle tax documents and prepare returns. Kain said some partnering goes on with local accountants.

“Some of our volunteers are retired and have a finance background,” she said. “But what we have are dedicated volunteers. People just step up and do it every year.”

She noted that there were three new volunteers last year, which was “really exciting,” but COVID has forced a couple to opt out of helping this year.

Still, as of now, there are seven or eight volunteers ready to handle tax documents. COVID has also forced the United Way to change the way the service will run this year.

This year there will be a drop-off system, and residents will have any of their questions answered. The volunteers will then prepare the taxes and have a face-to-face meeting with the residents about their returns.

“We’re doing what we can to limit the number of people we have in the building,” Kain said. “So we’re all wearing masks, using plexiglass, creating 6 feet of social distancing. We realize that during a pandemic things change.”

Despite the pandemic, Kain is hopeful the trend lines for the program stay the same. Typically the United Way completes more than 600 returns, with about $800,000 in refunds going back into the community.

“We’re realistic,” she said. “But we do have so many return clients and so many on the calendar this year. We also have partners who refer clients to us, so we expect that to continue.”

The organization is also helping high school seniors complete FAFSA applications during this time.

To make an appointment for either service, call the United Way at 641-682-1264. Kain said many employees are working remotely, so residents are encouraged to leave a name and phone number and the call will be returned.

The first appointments of the day begin at 11 a.m., and the last at 4:40 p.m.