By Brenda Grove, remote tax preparation coordinator + volunteer tax preparer

Prepare + Prosper (P+P) was founded by a group of justice-minded accountants who believed that a person’s ability to pay shouldn’t affect their ability to access quality tax preparation. As a long-time volunteer who now runs P+P’s Remote Tax Preparation service, I add to that a person’s ability or inability to participate in a service, like Prepare + Prosper’s tax clinics, shouldn’t affect their access to it.

Each year, Prepare + Prosper and its team of trained volunteers prepare taxes for more than 12,500 low- to moderate-income taxpayers via free tax clinics located in communities across the Twin Cities. What you might not know is that nearly 2,000 of the people we serve each year don’t visit one of our community tax sites, but instead have their taxes done “remotely.” For individuals who are aging, have a disability or are limited by their health, it’s difficult if not impossible to attend a busy and bustling tax clinic that can require up to four hours of one’s time. So instead Prepare + Prosper created an alternative preparation experience.

I started volunteering with Prepare + Prosper in 2011. I’d spent much of the previous 20 years homeschooling my kids and was looking for a place to volunteer where I could use my affinity for organizing data and learn new skills. I always loved math and my father was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), but when I helped out in his office as a kid, it was only to make copies. So this volunteer position sounded perfect. Prior to homeschooling my children, I worked as a counselor in a group home for people with disabilities and then as a social worker and psychologist. During that time I learned American Sign Language. As a volunteer tax preparer, my ASL skills have been useful. When the opportunity to run the growing the Remote Tax Preparation program came about, I jumped at it.

Brenda with Vicki, who she used to work for at a group home in Minneapolis. They reconnected at Prepare + Prosper where Vicki has been doing her taxes for years.

There is an incredible need for this service, and it continues to grow every year. People who navigate the world with a unique set of circumstances deserve an option that works for them. The income of people using the program is usually not enough to require them to file and many aren’t aware that even though their income is below the threshold, they’re eligible for a refund. Given that lack of awareness, and the obstacles they face in gathering all of the required documentation and traveling to and attending a tax clinic, many don’t file. And because of that they are missing out on tax credits and property refunds that they have earned and are vital to their livelihood.

Through the Remote Tax Preparation program, we adapt our typical tax preparation experience so people don’t have to wait for the two to four hours it takes fill out and review returns. Instead, I work with people one-on-one and often times with their family member, caregiver, or manager of the group home or facility they are living in. We provide them with a checklist to aid in gathering all of the necessary information and paperwork. We meet in advance of preparation to go through their paperwork and collect additional information. Then over the next several weeks we take all of that to a group of volunteers at our main office who prepare and review the returns. We then work with the taxpayer to have them review the return(s) and sign off on the paperwork.

Many people who are aging depend on their tax refunds to help pay their medical bills. For many living in group homes, money is tight and refunds provide flexibility and freedom to buy necessities, see family, and attend social events that create connections.

If you are interested in learning more about our Remote Tax Preparation program, contact Katy Schultz, tax + financial services director, at 651-262-2157.