AARP Tax Aide struggles to find volunteers

March 14, 2017 GMT

The RSVP and AARP Tax Aide Program’s temporary offices in Douglas County are busy this season as volunteers work to prepare state and federal tax returns free of charge for people with low to moderate incomes.

However, the income tax assistance service has been struggling to retain and recruit volunteers to keep it running each year, which means less people are able to have their tax returns processed for free.

As the average age of remaining volunteers increases, Karen McGuire, UCAN RSVP volunteer program manager, said she’s not seeing empty slots filled by new volunteers behind them.

“We have wonderful volunteers who have been very dedicated for many years,” McGuire said. “They’re all retired volunteers and some of them are starting to want to move on to other things of life, so we’re really hoping to increase our numbers.”

Tax Aide filled up all its available appointments in February, but walk-ins are welcome if they don’t mind waiting a few hours to receive the tax services.


The program is sponsored by the United Community Action Network’s RSVP program and is administered through the AARP Foundation in cooperation with the IRS and the Oregon Department of Revenue. Anyone can receive the services, though priority goes to the elderly and disabled with low to moderate incomes.

According to Lynda Frommer, the AARP Douglas County district coordinator, the program served more than 2,200 clients in 2016, 60 percent of whom were 60 or older, and the average income for all returns was $23,527.

“It’s really trying to meet the needs of a growing population in Douglas County of those that fit this category,” McGuire said.

Frommer, who has volunteered with AARP for 11 years, said the clients received over $2 million in federal tax refunds while low-income individuals and families received $552,895 in Earned Income Tax Credits. The estimated value of this service was $300,000, but was done for free by volunteers contributing almost 6,500 hours of work.

Anyone age 55 and older are welcome to volunteer with RSVP, which is part of national community service organization Senior Corps and partners with a variety of local organizations, including Community Cancer Center, VA Medical Center, South Douglas Food Bank and the Friendly Kitchen to name a few. Younger people are still encouraged to reach out to volunteer, as they can help the program in other ways.

Volunteers with Tax Aide do not need to have prior experience in tax preparation, and the program trains them in IRS requirements.

“There’s a lot of support,” Frommer said. “We really work as a team. We try to help as many people as we can.”

She added that every return goes through a quality review process which significantly increases accuracy. Last year in Oregon, tax returns that were reviewed for quality had a 98 percent accuracy rate while those that weren’t reviewed had a 66 percent accuracy rate.


In addition to tax preparers, the program is looking for volunteers to post fliers and posters around the county at the start of the tax season next year, provide publicity and education, offer social media support, greet clients, serve as a client facilitator, schedule clients and provide logistical support.

Betty Epley has volunteered the past five years as a greeter for the Roseburg Tax Aide location.

“It’s rewarding,” Epley said. “I think people appreciate it.”

This year, volunteer tax preparers are using a new software program with a steep learning curve, which has led to delays.

While it normally took an hour to prepare one client’s taxes, this year it has taken two hours, so less clients can be served.

“I commend them,” McGuire said of the volunteers. “This is not an easy new software transition to make. Most of them want to serve and meet the needs of the clients, and it’s a struggle this year.”

Finding locations to use as temporary offices during tax season is another challenge for Tax Aide. This year, the main hub for the Roseburg area is at 1215 S.E. Court St., Roseburg, which offers limited space and will not be available next year, according to McGuire. Other current locations are C. Giles Hunt Library at 210 E Central, Sutherlin, Winston Community Center at 440 Grape Ave., Winston and Riddle Community Center at 123 Parkside St., Riddle.

McGuire said Tax Aide will not close, but it may need to downsize its services if it’s left with too few volunteers and locations next year.

For more information, call the UCAN RSVP volunteer hotline at 541-492-3526.