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Free tax help is available, but booking up fast

COVID-19 impacting amount of volunteers/locations
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Posted at 5:55 PM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 18:32:58-04

PASCO COUNTY, Fla.  — With just over a month until taxes are due, local nonprofits tell ABC Action News they’re seeing an overwhelming demand for tax help. Yet, COVID-19 is complicating the process and making appointments for free tax help harder to get.

Vincent Croce used to get stressed out every time tax season rolled around. Until he found the United Way in Pasco County, where he’s been able to get help filing for the past 7 years.

“It’s very hard. It’s very expensive. And it’s wonderful that they have this organization for people to come to,” he explained.

Tax prep looks a lot different this year with volunteers meeting clients outside, gathering their paperwork, then taking the materials inside for tax preparers to work. Sometimes, the United Way is even able to issue returns that same day. Yet, because of COVID, there are fewer volunteers.

MaryAnne McCarthy, one of the United Way Pasco County tax prep volunteers, says many felt uncomfortable returning because they are older and possibly more vulnerable to the virus.

“We have less tax preparers here this year than in past years. I wanted to expand this site (at the Metropolitan Ministries Campus in Holiday) but it’s not possible,” she elaborated.

The United Way Pasco County and Suncoast chapters combined usually help 21,000 people file their taxes. This year, they’ll help a little more than half that amount.

Margarita Perez, at the United Way Suncoast Chapter, says they’ve had to limit capacity to 50% and require appointments this year.

“Everything this year is by appointment only. We’ve never had our normal tax season appointment only so that definitely has changed,” she said.

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We also checked and found similar situations with Goodwill and AARP.

Lynnette Lee-Villanueva, AARP’S Vice President of Tax-Aide says they’ve been busy fielding phone calls.

“We’ve had so many people come to us and there are fewer appointments but there are places that still have appointments,” she explained.

AARP has 6,000 fewer volunteers nationwide and 800 fewer sites that they’re offering free tax prep services at.

It comes as more people are needing more help than ever with filing taxes after switching jobs or collecting unemployment this year.

Chris Ward, at Goodwill Industries Suncoast, says that’s making the free tax prep services very popular.

“We are seeing unbelievable demand this year,” she added.

Yet, with the deadline pushed back to May 17, the United Way and AARP are working to open up more appointments, though they’re expected to be booked up fast. Their best advice to you: book a spot on their website as soon as you can.

Bill Humphrey at the United Way Pasco County says their focus is on helping those who are in a lower income bracket or who don’t have the internet skills to file their own taxes. According to him, the average income level of clients is about $25,000 per year.

Here are the links to book an appointment:

  • If you live in Pasco County, click here.
  • If you live in Hillsborough, Pinellas, Sarasota or DeSoto counties, visit this website.
  • For AARP’s tax service, which is nationwide and has several options throughout Florida, you can find more information here.