Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt
cherdt

You know what sounds fun? Doing other people's taxes!

Tax season is over tonight, but for me it ended last night. It was a little different this year, since I had been volunteering as a tax preparer at a VITA site through Philadelphia's Campaign for Working Families. The idea is to make sure that people get all of the money they are eligible for through taxes, particularly the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and Child Tax Credit, whereby certain people and families with low income can actually receive a refund greater than the amount of federal taxes withheld from their paychecks, and also to keep the money they might have spent going to a for-fee tax preparer.

It required 2 training sessions, and at first I was pretty frustrated because I didn't hear back from the organizers regarding training until only the least-convenient training sessions were available. After passing a pretty basic test, I received a little paper card that states I am a certified volunteer.

Although there were volunteer sites at City Hall and at the main branch of the Free Library, they had encouraged us to pick sites outside of Center City, where there were fewer volunteers and where it was more convenient for the people we wanted to serve. I picked a site in West Philly on Baltimore Ave between 55th and 56th.

The offices were on the 2nd floor of a little Pentecostal church. The hallway leading from the reception area to the tax prep rooms was so narrow that you had to turn sideways and flatten yourself against the wall to let people past. The computers and printers were in working condition, but were somewhat old and slow. There were often 2 stations per office, which surprised me at first since we had to discuss sensitive financial matters with the clients, but no one seemed to mind.

We asked a few survey questions in addition to the tax-related questions. One of the more curious things I found was that several of my clients (all of whom were black) identified as both African-American and Native American. In one case, I thought I could see it, but in the other cases it seemed like an affectation—something that I find is pretty common in whites.

I volunteered for 8 Monday evening sessions. I probably did an average of 3 returns a night, so 24 returns or so. Some were pretty straightforward, some were complex, some people got huge refunds, and some people owed.

I'm glad that I did it, but I never really got the feeling of satisfaction I was looking for. I'm not sure why. well_lahdidah theorized that maybe it was because so many of the clients had jobs and homes, and therefore I wasn't helping the helpless, or that it was because the clients learned nothing about doing their own taxes in the process and would therefore need help again the next year. I think it might have had something to do with the fact that I never really got to connect with anyone—I worked with them for an hour, punched in some numbers, and then I never saw them again. (That obviously wasn't the case for some of the seasoned volunteers and the site managers, who lived in the neighborhood and recognized many people by sight, often knowing each other from church, or even remembering details of someone's tax return from a prior year.)

Because of the time commitment, especially in tandem with the classes I'm taking, I'm guessing I probably won't do it again. I'll see how I feel next year.


I had weaseled a little more time out of well_lahdidah for keeping my whiskers by arguing that my fellow tax-site volunteers wouldn't recognize me without them. So last night, I got rid of them:

Photo of cherdt with vandyke-style facial hair Photo of cherdt after shaving

(Prior arguments I'd used: I'll need them for the ski trip, flastron hasn't seen them yet, and beninem hasn't seen them yet.)

It was sort of Patrick's fault. I just hadn't shaved in a while and Patrick said, "Nice vandyke." I had no idea what he was talking about, so I looked it up online, and apparently that's the name for such a moustache-goatee combination (see Goatee vs. Van Dyke for an amusing comparison, although Merriam-Webster disagrees). I decided to take it too far, and eventually I found that the ends just sort of wanted to curl up. At chassy's suggestion, I tried some pomade as moustache-wax, which worked suitably well. I played at Snidely Whiplash for a while, and I think I amused a few people in the process. But it's spring now, or nearly spring, and it's time for a new look.
Tags: moustache, philadelphia, taxes, volunteering
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