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Volunteers Do Everything Except Pay Your Taxes

February 23, 1986|JOHN M. BRODER

Even cowboys sometimes need a hand with their tax returns. Students working for the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program (VITA) won't soon forget the silver-haired cowpoke who strode into the Sylmar library last year looking for help preparing his 1040 form. With his gold cowboy boots and long white beard, he looked a lot like Col. Sanders, one of the students said. His tax returns were complicated by the high expenses of traveling the West for rodeos and cowboy shows.

The cowboy was one of more than 60,000 Southern California beneficiaries last year of VITA and a related program, Tax Counseling for the Elderly. The nationwide programs, sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service and a variety of community organizations, provide tax-return preparation help free to low-income, elderly, disabled and non-English-speaking taxpayers.

The volunteers in the 10-year-old program help their clients through the mine fields of energy and earned-income credits, renter's deductions, child-care provisions and disability exemptions. They work on state and federal tax returns.

Volunteers are trained by the IRS in five-day sessions and then fan out into several hundred sites around the Southland provided by churches, service groups, community centers and other organizations. All space and materials are donated.

Peter Rivera, coordinator of the VITA chapter at Cal State Northridge, the area's largest, said the college this year will provide 250 volunteers who will prepare more than 13,000 returns.

Rivera said CSUN volunteers will staff 24 sites, most in the San Fernando Valley. He said the program gets its customers through television and print advertising and word-of-mouth from satisfied previous clients.

And the students will get more than the two hours of college credit toward graduation.

"Lots of times you get old ladies coming in who are so scared their hands are shaking," Rivera said. "When you're done, they're so grateful sometimes they'll come back and bring you cookies."

For more information, call the IRS' toll-free number, 1-800-424-1040.

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