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Free tax assistance services suspended due to COVID-19

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Posted at 8:51 AM, Mar 17, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-17 09:51:33-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As the nation prepares for changes in the financial future, we are less than a month away from the deadline to file taxes.

While agencies and organizations change protocol to keep COVID-19 from spreading, it's creating a challenge for people who rely on free tax assistance.

One of those centers is at Connecting for Good's Linwood Area Ministry Place location, which provides internet, computers and digital skills training for low income communities and nonprofits.

The nonprofit's tax center has a partnership with United Way, which handles the VITA tax services.

"It is so weird to see all these chairs empty," Connecting for Good CEO, Tom Esselman said. "Because you could imagine when it's a normal day, they're all full. And it really is like the DMV and you've got constant pace. And today there's just nobody here."

A newly renovated tax service waiting room sits empty as the need for tax assistance grows.

"Three years ago we did just over 3,000 returns," Esselman said. "Last year, we did over 4,000 returns and this year we were on pace to do 5,000. That's going to change now."

It was a busy day of letting people know that service would be suspended until April 2.

It's something that took Richard Hill by surprise.

"My ride just left thinking this was going to happen," Hill said. "It is frustrating - it seems like it's just taking over everything."

Large events, such as the St. Patrick's Day Parade, several sporting events and large gatherings were put on hold for the moment as health leaders urge organizations to change protocol to keep COVID-19 from spreading.

"Next thing you know, they're going to tell us we can't go outside and breathe," Hill said. "I just hope they find something for this soon so we can hopefully get back to a normal life."

The center is a hub for people who rely on the services.

"We're talking about a population that's lower income, oftentimes has challenges with mobility. They might not, not only do they not have money to pay for a tax service to do their filing but oftentimes they don't know where to go," Esselman said. "As much as it pains us to turn people away, who want and need these services right now, we're going to fight together until we solve this problem."

While tax preparers' rooms sit vacant, Connecting for Good is taking time to disinfect and do any extra cleaning.

"As I told our whole team here at Connecting for Good and the partners of United Way who are doing the VITA tax services, we just have to all be a part of the same team," Esselman said. "And right now, I think if we're all concerned about health and safety of all those that we spend time interacting with everyday, this is the right thing to do."

There is a VITA site still open by appointment only. It's located at the Community Service League-Hawthorne Place a 16100 E. Dover Lane, Independence, MO 64056. For more information, call 816-944-0743.

The IRS has not officially announced yet an extension for the April 15 filing deadline. However, leaders at Connecting for Good did say they will be extending services as long as that deadline is extended.