March 3, 2014

UNHP Tax Expertise Brings Sighs of Relief


Mavis, with student volunteer tax preparer Peter, and Quality Reviewer Fernanda.

Mavis is a client of Part of the Solution (POTS) and came to file her taxes for free with UNHP at our mobile day on February 26th. In addition to a providing a soup kitchen, food pantry and case management services, POTS offers free legal services for people in need. Working with a POTS attorney, Mavis has been to court multiple times fighting to remain in her apartment of 34 years. Mavis was feeling desperate as she was unable to pay the back rent and she cannot work as a Registered Nurse due to an injury. Mavis qualified for a significant tax return, which will help her pay her back rent. “I was trying to stay positive, but now I have hope.” Mavis lives in a building with a new owner where some of the apartments are subsidized and some are market rate. With her reduced income she is trying to qualify for the subsidized rent. Mavis raised 6 children, and three of her daughters followed her into the medical field.

Veronica with “Whiz Kid” Fernanda.

Veronica, age 62, is a clerk at a non-profit social service agency and uses a local food pantry to help her make ends meet.  She did have a better paying job in manufacturing, but the company shut down after 9/11. Veronica had used a free-lance tax preparer in the past who would charge her $100 to get her taxes done.  This year he told her she would have to pay $800 in taxes because she could no longer claim her college-age son. “My pressure went up – where was I going to get $800?”  Veronica did not file with the paid preparer and came to UNHP for help.  Thanks to her volunteer student tax preparer, Nicholas W. and UNHP’s Tax Coordinator, Fernanda Campos, Veronica got a nice refund instead of owing money to the IRS.  Even though her son attends Lehman College with grant aid, she can still claim him as a dependent because she is his source of support and because he was under age 24, she qualified for Earned Income Tax Credit. Veronica was happy to hear the good news and was very pleased with the quality of assistance she got from the volunteer and paid staff at UNHP. “I am so happy. You kids are wizards!”  Veronica will use some of her refund to pay for summer school for her son, who plans to graduate in September with his degree in Computer Engineering.

Student volunteers attend day-long tax training at UNHP.

UNHP’s Free Tax Preparation Program is powered with the help of over 90 student volunteers from  Fordham University and Manhattan College. All tax volunteers have to pass a 15 hour on-line training course with the IRS and then attend an eight-hour training with UNHP. Most of the student volunteers are in the business schools and many have taken tax courses at their colleges. Each volunteer-prepared return is reviewed by a Quality Reviewer, for accuracy. Fernanda Campos is a Quality Reviewer and UNHP’s tax site coordinator. She has worked on staff at UNHP for the tax season since 2011, is a full-time student at Baruch College and the first in her Ecuadorian family to attend college. She truly is a “whiz kid” as Veronica described her, maintaining a 3.6 average in school and working 40 hrs a week with UNHP at tax season. Fernanda plans to be a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) – unless UNHP can figure out how to keep her!