Volume 77 / Number 41 - March 12 - 18, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Slow but steady, AARP free Friday tax clinics are well worth the wait

By Mary Reinholz

As the April 15 deadline for filing tax returns looms, it’s nice to know there are accounting services that don’t exact a pound of flesh for help establishing your annual earnings and expenses with the Internal Revenue Service and New York State. In fact, for cost-conscious folks in the Village, the Caring Community on 20 Washington Square North is offering a free tax clinic every Friday until April 11 sponsored by AARP. And it’s not just for seniors on a fixed income, said  Arthur Makar, Caring Community executive director, regarding the program, which began five years ago.

“That’s AARP policy,” he explained.

Makar, however, notes that the AARP volunteers who provide the help with training from the I.R.S. can only accommodate the first 15 people when hours begin Fridays at 10 a.m. Even though the intrepid come earlier with their forms to the second floor, writing their names on a sign-up sheet and filling out a simple questionnaire, the wait can be several hours. It was close to a four-hour wait last Friday for this writer, who came with documents at 11 a.m. A Czech rock musician in his late 30s was among the taxpayers on line that day. He drives a truck on the side but didn’t seem to mind sitting on a metal chair until his name was called because of the money he was saving.

“I didn’t make that much money this year and I didn’t want to spend $80 to get my taxes done at H&R Block in Staten Island,” he explained. “I go there on the ferry and then take a bus, because it would cost me $200 to have my taxes done in Manhattan. I’ve been coming here for several years,” he noted of Caring Community’s free tax program, whose volunteers wore crisp, blue work shirts with the AARP logo. They electronically dispatched completed forms to the feds — and to the state — with printed copies to all comers that same day in a room at the end of hall where they sat behind laptops.

The elegant octogenarian gent next to me in line, who had worked for the city of New York starting with Mayor Wagner and through Ed Koch’s administration, seemed to feel the same way as the rock musician, even though it was obvious by his black cashmere scarf that he could afford a pricey tax geek to do his income taxes. But he said he hated to spend the money.

“I’d rather spend my money on travel,” he said, noting he recently had visited his daughter, who teaches English to corporate executives in Shanghai. He recalled how AARP used to help his bedridden mother fill out her tax forms at home.

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