Congregations Working for Workers

Be the link for fair tax refunds

by Lauren Hales

During tax season, a time when low-income families  and individuals should be receiving their well-deserved tax returns, many sub-par tax preparers set up shop to take advantage of these customers with negligent tax returns and high rates. Tax preparers have been known to charge as much as $500 to file a straightforward return—exploiting a community who needs their tax refunds to pay for necessities. Impact America, a nonprofit whose mission is to “engage recent graduates and college students to address community needs, empowering a generation through collaborative efforts to promote change in the communities we serve,” directly addresses this injustice through their SaveFirst program.

SaveFirst is a volunteer-led free tax preparation program for low-income individuals and families. In 2018 alone, SaveFirst saved their participants over five million dollars in fees and claimed over 19.2 million dollars in tax refunds. Mary Kate Thomas, director, explained that in many states, “There is little to no certification required to become a tax preparer, and when taxes are filed fraudulently, the responsibility falls on the individual, not the tax preparer.”

Since SaveFirst is volunteer-led, Impact America is always on the lookout for agencies to host their tax preparation service. Faith communities, remarked Mary Kate, “are community spaces that have welcomed us in … not only in their space, but we also work with churches to get the word out to their communities, and most churches have a variety of income levels in their membership, so it helps in many ways to partner with them.”

One of their consistent partner churches, Greater Peace Missionary Baptist Church in Opelika, Alabama, saw working with SaveFirst as a ministry opportunity. As Pastor Jones explained, “We are here to serve our community and provide opportunities for people to access the services they need.” Pastor Jones explained that a church who wants to work with Impact America needs to have an adequately sized room, space to set up individual tax preparation stations, ample parking, a church representative, accessible bathrooms, and so on. “Our role is very low level. SaveFirst even brings in students from Auburn University to do the tax preparation themselves. We’ll keep doing it as long as we can. We look forward to it each year, we promote it, and we encourage people to come.”

If your church sees fair tax preparation as a ministry opportunity, investigate partnering with local organizations such as Impact America to act as a host site, or organize qualified volunteer tax return preparers within your congregation or community, and be the link that helps low-income families receive their fair tax refunds.

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