When the Lewiston-Auburn CA$H Coalition celebrated its 11th anniversary of free tax preparation and asset-building outreach on April 9, its IRS-certified local volunteers were recognized for preparing 2,042 returns, resulting in a total of $2,876,000 in Federal refunds and $701,000 in State refunds that will go back into the pockets of local residents.
Those numbers accounted for 43% of the total tax prep work done by Maine’s ten such coalitions during the 2014 tax season and brought the Coalition’s 11-year claim tally for L-A area residents to $22,561,674.
In addition to preparing tax refunds to qualifying residents free of charge, the Coalition promotes the Earned Income Tax Credit, a Federal tax credit for those who work. This year, Federal refunds included $964,000 in claims for this credit, sometimes referred to as the nation’s largest anti-poverty initiative.
Coalition members also provided asset-building information to interested individuals on topics such as savings accounts, budgeting classes, homeownership, debt management, business start-up, and individual and family development accounts.
This year, under the leadership of Jennifer Allen and Libby Bernier-Michaud, the Coalition worked to step up its efforts in this area. Through a grant from the JT Gorman Foundation and working closely with the Finance Authority of Maine, the Coalition provided information about higher education savings accounts to a total of 90 families, 51 of which received $25 vouchers to start investment accounts for their children. During the tax season, asset coaches Laurie McDonnell, Jill Lorom, and Jaimie Gutshall responded to various information requests from 272 individuals.
At the April 9 recognition event, Lewiston Mayor Robert E. Macdonald praised Coalition volunteers as “neighbors helping neighbors” on the road to self-sufficiency and wise fiscal management. Lewiston’s Community Relations Coordinator and Coalition Co-Chair Dottie Perham-Whittier presented an overview of Coalition efforts and successes during the 2014 tax season, including February’s Super REFUND Saturday & Financial Literacy Fair.
Tax preparation Site Coordinator KC Geiger and Head Start Training Coordinator and Coalition Co-Chair Chris Adler presented certificates of appreciation to tax preparers, asset coaches, greeters, schedulers, and quality review volunteers Paul Blanchard, Lisa Bolen, Ronald Bunker, Kate Cooper, Richard Beaulieu, Yolande Gay, Gerald Langelier, Frances Lodge, Andy Michaud, Thomas Coulombe, Peter Field, Sue Goddard, Carol Ressler, Marge Schwietering, Antoine Tolton, Robert Wailus, Judy Gervais, Nancy Bisson, Bob Cavanagh, Roland Danico, Joe Defilipp, Melody Fish, Louise Gervais, Lorna Healey, Monica Lee, Lou MacDonald, Paul Maheux, Claudette Martel, Gerry Martel, Wayne Penley, Jan Sullivan, Sue Tymoczko, Joyce Kennedy, William Randall, Arias Wan, and Diane Kirouac.
University of Maine college student Peter Field was recognized as the top tax preparer of the season, completing 230 returns. He was also praised for his outstanding customer service in assisting members of the public.
The efforts of long-time Site Coordinator KC Geiger were lauded as “invaluable beyond words” and quality reviewers Judy Gervais, Bill Randall, and Carol Ressler were thanked for their tax expertise. Schedulers Louise Gervais and Bob Cavanagh were recognized for fielding over 4,000 calls during the tax season.
Coalition Co-Chair Chris Adler read a volunteer commendation letter from IRS Stakeholder Relationship Tax Consultant Tess Armstrong, along with letters from U.S. Senators Collins and King and Representative Chellie Pingree. Quality reviewer Carol Ressler stole the show by presenting a comical version of the job description for a volunteer tax preparer and discussing what a rewarding experience it turns out to be.
AARP District Director Frances Lodge and Perham-Whittier praised the positive relationship between CA$H and AARP volunteer tax preparers, who worked collaboratively during the tax season. Lodge also praised the efforts of AARP local coordinator Paul Blanchard. With AARP’s completed tax returns (663) added to the Coalition’s, the grand total of returns prepared climbs to 2,705.
The L-A CA$H Coalition was funded in 2014 by a statewide VITA grant, the JT Gorman Foundation and Key Bank. Coalition partners and promoters were the cities of Lewiston and Auburn; the Internal Revenue Service; the Androscoggin County Chamber of Commerce; the United Way of Androscoggin County; Androscoggin Head Start & Child Care; Women, Work, & Community; Key Bank; Coastal Enterprises, Inc.; Lewiston Adult Education; the Lewiston and Auburn housing authorities; the AARP Tax Aide program; United Somali Women of Maine; Volunteers of America; HUD; Community Concepts; and Goodwill.