En español | Fear of government, lack of financial resources or difficulty with the English language can be impediments to many immigrants when it comes to filing federal and state tax returns.
"The problem is they might be missing refunds," said Dan McClean, AARP Colorado Tax-Aide coordinator. To remedy that, McClean and Roberto Rey, AARP Colorado associate state director for multicultural outreach, collaborated on a plan to open Denver's first bilingual Tax-Aide site.
Tax-Aide is a national AARP Foundation program, provided in cooperation with the Internal Revenue Service, that offers tax preparation services to low- and moderate-income people, with a particular focus on those 60 or older.
Rey and McClean contacted Centro San Juan Diego, a ministry of the Catholic Archdiocese of Denver, which offers educational and pastoral services to the immigrant population. Centro, in downtown Denver, assisted about 30,000 people last year, most from the Denver metro area and northern Colorado.
The new Tax-Aide office "allows us to reach out to a population of lower-income and more recent immigrants in the Hispanic community," Rey said. More than a quarter of Colorado's Hispanic population is foreign-born.
"I believe absolutely that this is a service that is needed," said Jennie Marquez, assistant director of Centro San Juan Diego. "There are individuals who don't understand the law or don't speak English very well and perhaps aren't filing taxes or can't afford to file taxes."
AARP Colorado and Centro San Juan Diego recruited several bilingual volunteers who studied to become Tax-Aide counselors. The Centro Tax-Aide site is open a few hours each week through April 18. For specific times, contact Rey at 303-318-6763.
McClean hopes more bilingual people will volunteer at some of the 50 other Tax-Aide sites around Colorado that are housed in banks, churches, libraries and senior centers. In most of those sites, tax counselors must seek out Spanish speakers.
Tax-Aide volunteers are trained and certified each year in order to keep up with ever-changing tax codes. Colorado's roughly 520 Tax-Aide volunteers served more than 29,000 people last year and saved them more than $2.5 million in tax preparation fees.
"This is money, and with the economy the way it is today, this is something that can put an extra couple dollars back in [their] pockets to make a mortgage payment or a rent payment or put food on the table," said Marquez.
"These are people who work all year. If they don't know to file taxes or that they can take certain deductions, or if dealing with the government in general is a fear for them, they lose out," she said.
The ultimate goal is education, she said. "It is part of the growing process to help them become self-sufficient, teach their children and serve their community."
Tax-Aide was formed in 1968, and today processes about 2.6 million returns around the nation each year.
McClean said the program is "up close and personal. That's the best part about it. For example, a single mom with three kids is making $24,000 a year, and she is struggling. You tell her she's going to get a $6,840 refund. Right then and there you are Wonder Woman, you are Superman. You are more important to her than the president of the United States. And you feel so good that they look upon you as a miracle worker."
Tax counselors are recruited beginning in October. In December, volunteers study tutorials to help them learn tax law. In-class training and testing for certification takes place in January in time for the Feb. 1 opening of Tax-Aide sites.
Visit the Tax-Aide website to to find out more about the program, find a site near you or to become a volunteer for the 2012 tax season. You can also call toll-free 1-888-AARPNOW (1-888-227-7669).
Cynthia Pasquale is a freelance writer living in Denver.