Friday, April 4, 2014

United Way expands tax prep services

Article was published originally in the April 3rd, 2014 edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Photo by: Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette
Sam Welker, 24, of Moon, is a former Marine who provides free tax assistance to veterans as part of a United Way program.

By Joyce Gannon / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Sam Welker served four years in the U.S. Marine Corps, including seven months in Afghanistan, and rose to the rank of corporal before returning to his hometown of Moon where he’s pursuing an accounting degree at Robert Morris University.

So when a faculty member at RMU tapped him to volunteer for a program that helps veterans prepare their income tax returns, Mr. Welker, 24, said it was an ideal opportunity to combine his life experiences.

“I was definitely looking to give back,” said Mr. Welker, who offers tax preparation assistance at the Veterans Leadership Program on the South Side.

He’s also a site coordinator for a center at RMU that processes tax returns for veterans.

Free tax help for veterans is available through a program sponsored by the Money in Your Pocket Coalition and United Way of Allegheny County, which have been assisting low-income individuals with their tax returns since 2006.

This year, United Way expanded its offerings to more sites, including the Veterans’ Leadership Program, so that those who need help can more easily access the free services.

Though the assistance site at RMU has been up and running for a couple of years, “There was a mismatch between where the vets were” and RMU’s suburban setting, said Angela Reynolds, director of programs for financially struggling adults and families at the United Way.

With its location on heavily-traveled East Carson Street, the Veterans Leadership Program can be reached by public transportation. That means more individuals can take advantage of free tax help there, she said.

Another way that United Way expanded the tax program this year was through a partnership with the Human Services Center Corp. in Turtle Creek that helps international students in Pittsburgh who haven’t filed taxes before. Those individuals can get assistance at a site at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public and International Affairs.

Next year, the program hopes to provide more sites for people with disabilities and sites that would be convenient for the region’s growing Latino population, Ms. Reynolds said. “Community partnerships are key for the success of these clinics.” United Way describes the clinics as “mobile sites” that target individuals with specialized needs.

At the Veterans Leadership Program, for instance, the staff publicized the program and alerted veterans that trained volunteers would be on site on Saturdays so that they could make appointments. More than 20 veterans to date have received help with their taxes there, Ms. Reynolds said.

From January through last week, the Money in Your Pocket program had processed 3,700 tax returns for people in the region, according to United Way.

Besides the sites for veterans and international students, there are 11 sites currently offering tax help before the federal filing deadline of April 15. Appointments can be made by calling 2-1-1, United Way’s helpline.

To qualify for free tax assistance, individual income cannot exceed $20,000; family income must be $40,000 or less.

Those making up to $51,000 can call 2-1-1 to learn about other sites where they can get tax help in Allegheny and surrounding counties. Also, individuals or families with incomes up to $58,000 can get free tax assistance at, which is a website sponsored by the Walmart Foundation, United Way, Goodwill Industries International and the National Disability Institute.

The Money in Your Pocket Coalition is comprised of nonprofit organizations and government agencies. Volunteers are trained by the Internal Revenue Service.

Last year, the coalition helped to prepare 5,811 returns that generated $10 million in refunds for Allegheny County residents, including $4.1 million in earned income tax credits, according to the United Way.

Joyce Gannon: or 412-263-1580.

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