For the most part, income tax season has ended. VITA and AARP tax volunteers throughout Michigan are closing down their tax sites, deleting personal tax files from computers, and preparing reports for the various funding agencies which support the EITC (earned income tax credit) tax assistance programs.
In Berrien County, we are getting ready to celebrate and honor volunteers next Monday night at a dinner at the Niles District Library. Nothing fancy, really. A few words will be spoken, perhaps a blessing will be said, some food will be eaten together, certificates of appreciation passed out, and then we will be "officially" done until next tax year.
The problems that our clients experience are not just during tax season, but are 365 days of the year.
Yesterday, I had a follow up call with a young woman. (OK, she's in her early 40's, but that is young to me.) The volunteer preparer who completed her tax return had made an error on the return. When she left our tax site, she was under the impression that she was entitled to a refund of about $500 for the Michigan renter's credit (Michigan Form MI-1040CR, commonly referred to as the homestead property tax credit.)
She had not received her refund from the State, except for about $90 in home heating voucher rebate. So, she had returned back to the site, wondering what happened to her $500 refund. To this day, I am still not sure what the tax preparer (a new volunteer this year) had done. It appears to me that he randomly entered $500 in the wrong line. Maybe it was a sticky keyboard (since our equipment tends to be hand me down). Who knows?
When she returned to our tax preparation site in downtown Benton Harbor, I told her that it appeared to be a mistake and that she was not entitled to the $500 refund. She was in tears. So, I promised to look into it further and call her back to confirm this, one way or the other.
Volunteers who work on taxes know that the last week or two of tax season is busy (like the start of tax season) with last minute procrastinator tax filers. (Imagine that! Not everybody likes to get their taxes prepared!) So, I forgot to call her back. Or perhaps more likely, dreaded calling her back because I was not sure what I was going to say other than: "I'm sorry. It was a mistake."
Yesterday, the caller i.d. on my home phone indicated that someone had called. The caller had not left a message, but once I thought about the name, I realized it was the young lady. I had not yet called her back and it was now a week or two later.
So, that was my cue. I did call her yesterday afternoon and let her know. "I'm sorry. It was a mistake." And she said, "That's OK. I have stopped beating myself up over it. I guess it wasn't meant to be."
Our phone call ended with a few pleasantries. "God bless you" and such.
However, this morning, it has got me to wondering. A woman who was "beating herself up" over not receiving a tax refund of $500. What does a woman who lives off of an annual income of $8,300 do the other 364 days of the year when she is not getting her taxes prepared? Maybe wondering will she get lucky on her taxes next year? Or how to pay the bills? Or hoping that she does not get sick?
This morning driving into work, I heard one of my favorite songs, a Motown oldie from the Five Stairsteps, before the Jackson 5 -- the "First Family of Soul."
Somehow, it seems fitting today. So, as a former disc jockey, please allow me to dedicate this to a young lady in Benton Harbor. I hope her boss gives her a raise this year:
"O-o-h child things are gonna get easier
O-o-h child things 'll get brighter
O-o-h child things are gonna get easier
O-o-h child things 'll get brighter
Someday we'll get it together and we'll get it undone
Someday when the world is much brighter
Someday we'll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun
Someday when the world is much lighter"
for the full version, and not just a preview of O-o-h child: