Allegheny County nonprofits provide free tax assistance
April 9, 2013 8:15 AM
Management major Una Japundza, left, and accounting major Kristin Schmidt, 20, help Tom Thompson of Aliquippa with his taxes as part of a free tax preparation service sponsored by the Money in Your Pocket Coalition at Robert Morris University in Moon.
By Joyce Gannon Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Marcel Minutolo, a veteran of the Pennsylvania National Guard, teaches corporate social responsibility courses at Robert Morris University. So when he learned that a nonprofit coalition in Allegheny County was seeking individuals with military certification to help veterans with their taxes, Mr. Minutolo saw the perfect fit for his skills and background.
"I was looking for a way to give back to the community," said Mr. Minutolo, who heads the business school's management department and participated in peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and relief efforts for victims of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and was the commander of the 556th Military Intelligence Co. based in Philadelphia.
The free tax preparation center Mr. Minutolo helped to launch last year at Robert Morris' Moon campus is one of 11 sites serving low-income individuals and veterans through the Money in Your Pocket Coalition -- an organization comprised of the United Way, Allegheny County, Just Harvest, the Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, and the YMCA and YWCA of Greater Pittsburgh.
The coalition uses funding from the United Way, the Internal Revenue Service and Walmart to train volunteers; purchase equipment, tax materials and supplies for the centers; and market the program, said Angela Reynolds, United Way's director of programs for financially struggling adults and families.
In addition to those funding sources, technical assistance is provided by Just Harvest, a South Side-based nonprofit that formed the coalition in 2006. United Way became the lead organization in 2009, Ms. Reynolds said.
Last year, 147 volunteers processed nearly 6,400 returns, she said. The United Way estimated that the service resulted in $10.6 million in tax refunds including $4.4 million in federal earned income tax credits.
To qualify for the service, an individual's annual income cannot exceed $20,000. Income for married couples filing jointly and those with dependents cannot exceed $40,000.
The median income for families and individuals the coalition assisted last year was $12,494, Ms. Reynolds said.
Participants need to supply the following documents if they seek help at a coalition site: photo identification; Social Security card or taxpayer identification number for each household member; birth dates for everyone claimed on the return; W-2 and other income forms; mortgage interest and property tax statements; child care provider information; local tax forms; and copies of last year's return if available. If married, spouses should accompany the filer to sign tax returns. The center helps with federal, state and local taxes.
At the Robert Morris center, 22 volunteers including students, alumni, and faculty have been providing assistance since January. Mr. Minutolo expects the center -- open 4-9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday -- to complete close to 150 returns this tax season. Next year, he anticipates that number will double as word spreads about the service.
The Robert Morris center also partners with the Veterans Leadership Program of Western Pennsylvania on the South Side to assist veterans who need tax help.
"I go there once a week, do intake for a few hours from veterans, bring the information back here, give it to our interns, we print out the returns and I take them back to them," Mr. Minutolo said.
In an attempt to broaden its mission beyond its on-campus service, the Robert Morris center also has completed tax forms for clients of Mercy Behavioral Health and people seeking help from the Internal Revenue Service at the Federal Building, Downtown, and hopes next year to place on-site volunteers with those organizations.
"We get some real interesting tax filers," said Mr. Minutolo. "I've told the students, 'You won't get that in your textbooks. People's lives are not textbook cases.' "
For more information or to make an appointment at a Money in Your Pocket coalition center, call 412-255-1155.
With less than a week before the midnight Monday deadline, the countdown is on for filing 2012 federal, state and local tax returns.
For those who haven't finished -- or started -- the task, a number of resources exist to help.
The United Way's Money in Your Pocket Coalition operates 11 sites where low-income individuals and families can get free assistance processing their returns. Locations are:
• Allegheny County Department of Human Services, One Smithfield St., Downtown.
• Allegheny Valley Association of Churches, 1913 Freeport Road, Natrona Heights.
• Just Harvest, 16 Terminal Way, South Side.
• Community College of Allegheny County Boyce Campus, 595 Beatty Road, Monroeville.
• Robert Morris University, 6001 University Blvd., Moon.
• Housing Authority, City of Pittsburgh, Bedford Hope Center, 2305 Bedford Ave., Hill District.
• Prospect Park Family Center, 1450 Maple Drive, Baldwin.
• YWCA Homewood-Brushton Community Center, 6907 Frankstown Ave., Homewood.
For information on who qualifies for services, hours and to make an appointment, call 211 or 412-255-1155.
The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service to assist low-income individuals and families, elderly and disabled filers. Three VITA sites are located Downtown:
• City-County Building, second floor, Ross Street entrance, 8 a.m.-3 p.m., Monday through Friday, first come, first served.
• Federal Building, 1000 Liberty Ave., 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Tuesday-Thursday, appointments made in person and limited to first 15 individuals.
The AARP Foundation's Tax-Aide program offers free tax counseling and preparation at local legislators' offices, libraries, churches and other locations. Go to www.aarp.org/money/taxes/aarp_taxaide and enter your ZIP code. Or call toll free 1-888-687-2277.
The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue has extended hours this week for its Taxpayer Service and Information Center. Weekdays, including Monday, it will operate 7:30 a.m.-6 p.m. On Saturday, it will operate 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Closed Sunday. Go to www.revenue.state.pa.us or call 1-717-787-8201.
For help on federal individual returns, call the IRS Tax Help Line at 1-800-829-1040. For help on federal business returns, call 1-800-829-4933.
To request an extension beyond Monday, got to www.IRS.gov and click on the link for Form 4868.