COLUMBIA — Tax season is here, and in the past month, more people than ever before have been lining up to receive free tax assistance from AARP’s volunteers at the Columbia Public Library, according to the program’s tax counselors.
The organization’s tax assistance program at the library has been helping between 35 and 40 people most days, a significantly higher number than in years past, said tax counseler Dave Berg.
Cyrus Harbourt, who coordinates the program in Columbia, cited two main reasons for the increase in demand. For one thing, some qualified low-income individuals who haven’t been required to file a tax return in the past must do so this year to receive the economic stimulus payments of between $300 and $600 being distributed by the federal government. In addition, the state Department of Revenue’s Tax Assistance Center in Columbia was closed, so residents who once received help there must now go elsewhere.
Tax counseler Tony Koebel said the tax help has been so popular this year that the organization added an extra day each week to accommodate the increase in need. Even with the additional day, he said, the demand for tax help has remained high.
“We’ve sent people away almost every day,” Koebel said.
About 30 AARP tax counselors make up Columbia’s branch of the program, which provides low-income individuals with free and confidential tax assistance and online filing.
The counselors have each completed a training session and passed an exam, and they retake it each year that they return to the program.
The volunteer counselors say they enjoy helping out.
“I guarantee that no counselor is there who doesn’t want to be there,” Harbourt said.
There is also a sense of camaraderie among the volunteers.
“We have a lot of fun,” Berg said. “I think everybody really enjoys themselves.”
Mary Auer, 84, said she heard about the service when she called the library and is trying to make others aware of it.
“I appreciate AARP doing it because they don’t have to,” Auer said.
Koebel said that those who are most in need of help are particularly appreciative.
Mack Brushwood, 89, has volunteered for the program for 21 years and works all three days each week at the library doing quality checking.
“Where can you help more people than doing this?” he said. “We save people a lot of money.”
The program has no paid positions in Columbia, no office and virtually no budget, Harbourt said.
“The library and church are our gracious hosts,” Harbourt said.
The AARP tax program has access to the library’s computer training room and printer free of charge. Missouri United Methodist Church also provides space for counselors three days a week.