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Free tax preparation program expands reach

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — On Thursday, the United Way of Aroostook embarked on its third day of a program that has helped hundreds of Aroostook County residents with their tax preparations over the past six years. 

The Aroostook CA$H Coalition Free Tax Return Preparation Program allows individuals who earn less than $54,000 per year to schedule a free tax return appointment with United Way at their office in Presque Isle, at the Houlton Higher Education Center in Houlton or at the Medical Office building across from the Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent.

Clients meet with volunteer tax preparers, who are IRS certified, and review all information necessary to file a federal tax return. They then find out how much they will receive for their tax refund.

United Way Executive Director Sherry Locke said that the nonprofit organization has already scheduled 450 appointments throughout the three locations and there are less than 300 appointments still available. This year they have expanded the number of volunteer tax preparers because they had to turn many people away in 2017 due to not having enough volunteers for all appointments.

“It has become apparent over the years that there’s a great need in Aroostook County for this program, especially since we no longer have an IRS office up here,” Locke said. “We couldn’t do this without our volunteers. They dedicate around 100 hours of their time during tax season so that people can receive quality assistance.”

After clients meet with their tax preparer, a second preparer reviews their return to ensure that all information is stated correctly. They are then able to meet with opportunity guides — employees from the County Federal Credit Union — to discuss how they can use their tax return to make smart financial investments and budgeting decisions.

Clients also receive an Aroostook CA$H Coalition packet that has information on available financial, health and educational services available from the Aroostook County Action Program, New Ventures Maine and the County Federal Credit Union.

Presque Isle resident Arthur Drury met with a tax preparer and opportunity guides on Feb. 8. He has taken advantage of the Free Tax Preparation Program for two years now and is grateful for the volunteers who have assisted him with both tax preparation and financial advice.

“They’re good folks and they’ve been able to help me a lot when I’ve come here. Having the program be free is a big deal because I don’t have the money to pay someone else to do my taxes,” Drury said.

Last year, United Way served over 500 people through the Free Tax Preparation Program and the organization hopes to serve at least 700 people in 2018. Appointments are available in Presque Isle for Tuesdays and Thursdays, in Houlton on Wednesdays and in Fort Kent on select Saturdays. Individuals can schedule an appointment by calling the United Way office at (207) 764-5197.

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