Ministry reaches beyond tax assistance
Taxes. That word alone can strike fear and anxiety in people as they face the task of filing annual tax returns at the local, state and federal level.
But assistance is available thanks to the New Life Worship Center Tax Team, headed by founder Scott Seifer. He has been helping local residents fill out tax forms for more than 10 years as part of the church’s outreach.
A bonus is that those who take advantage of the help are also reaching out and helping other local organizations that, in turn, offer assistance through various outreach programs, Seifer said.
For a $20 donation, area residents can “get their taxes done and give back to the community,” he said, noting that the tax ministry gives all proceeds to 15 other programs, such as Every Life Matters Pregnancy Support Services, Warmed Hearts Firewood Ministry and Refuge Youth Network.
The support from the tax mission is “amazing,” said Carol Steffen, executive director of Every Life Matters in Tyrone.
“They have blessed us in many ways,” she said, “By giving us a portion of what they bring in, we put it toward the families that we serve.”
The faith-based ELM encourages all of its participants to “include God in their life,” she said, “to figure out where He is in all of this.”
Programs through ELM are free and include educating parents on everything from budgeting, life skills, prenatal, parenting, grief, peer pressure and more.
Due to the pandemic, many of the programs are available online and include videos, as well as handouts and homework. Participants earn points by completing the work and the points can be used to receive everything from pack and plays and cribs to car seats, and other needed items that are oftentimes expensive to buy.
The videos are only about 20 minutes long, Steffen said, but can really help make a difference in an adult’s life and their children’s lives. The videos also open up conversation with participants and give them information that they can take to their health care provider, she said.
By using a point system, the program is not a handout, more like encouragement and a helping hand, she said.
“It keeps dignity intact as people are working toward something … investing in their child,” Steffen said.
The funds the program receives from the tax service means that more items can be purchased to support families, who come from Tyrone, Altoona and beyond. One participant is in Pittsburgh, she added.
“You don’t normally have a ministry supporting another ministry,” Steffen said, noting that God has multiplied and blessed the tax group because of their outreach.
“Scott is such a cool guy. We use him for our taxes,” she said. “I know everything we have is provided by God … he uses people. When you partner with God, you know everything is going to be OK,” she said.
Keeping families warm
Jim Rhodes of Warmed Hearts Firewood Ministry says the support offered by the tax ministry “helps by providing funds for us to purchase tree-length logs that we, in turn, cut, split and stack up so that we have seasoned firewood available for the next heating season.”
The tax ministry funds, along with other donations, ensure the firewood ministry has enough to supply people in need with firewood to keep warm over the winter months, he said.
On average, the firewood ministry helps 25-30 families or individuals each heating season, Rhodes said, noting that the ministry has been in operation for about six years and is made up of 15 to 25 volunteers who cut, split, stack and deliver the firewood.
In addition to supplying funds for firewood, Rhodes said, the tax ministry also alerts the firewood ministry if they encounter families or individuals who may be in need of firewood.
“The tax ministry is truly a blessing for our ministry. It helps to ensure we can meet the needs of families in need of assistance for firewood for heat each year.”
In the beginning
Seifer came up with the idea for a tax ministry 11 years ago, but that first year he didn’t get as many opportunities as he expected.
“I went to our pastor and said I had this idea” to help people with their taxes, said Seifer, an Air Force veteran and a retired budget analyst for the Van Zandt VA Medical Center.
The ministry was announced to the congregation at New Life Worship Center, Altoona, “and I had two people who took advantage of it,” he said. “I was crushed. ‘Maybe God doesn’t want me to do this.'”
Seifer didn’t give up though, and after that first year, the ministry grew and has been growing year after year.
Then last year, he decided to get the word out to a wider audience, expecting and hoping that more people would come out and take advantage of the service.
He didn’t figure on COVID-19.
“We were gearing for maybe serving 1,000, and I can tell you I was praying to God to amaze me, but to be truthful, (I was) not really looking toward what He had in store,” Seifer wrote in an email.
Getting the word out to a wider audience helped push the numbers up, Seifer said, but “God wasn’t done.”
It was about mid-March when he heard that the Blair Senior Center was closing down due to the pandemic and that meant tax services were closed down as well.
The center contacted Seifer to make sure it was OK to give out the tax service information to those affected by the shutdown, and “we received 60 calls on our voicemail,” he said. “I was thinking ‘God give us strength.'”
Then in mid-April, the group found out the IRS was extending the filing date, and “we ended up doing tax returns up until mid-July,” he said.
In the end, the mission helped 1,210 people get
$1.8 million in refunds and the group raised more than $32,000 in donations to give out to other nonprofits.
This year, as the group takes on its 11th annual tax service, it is projecting to serve 2,000-3,000 residents and raise more than $50,000 to give out to other mission groups, Seifer said.
He doesn’t do all the work himself, he is quick to point out.
A crew of about 20 volunteers enters the data from clients’ W-2s and other forms. Then, Seifer goes through every return to make sure taxpayers are getting the best refund possible.
“I’m interested in talking to the person, to find rent/property tax rebates if they didn’t know about it before,” he said, noting that is true especially with older adults.
For those who end up owing taxes, Seifer says he calls them personally and explains the issue and the various ways to pay the outstanding debt.
Seifer will even help people fill out past years’ returns and bring their obligations up to date.
The IRS is willing to work with people, he said, noting there are payment plans as well as other methods available to help taxpayers get caught up.
“We get some who have not filed in years,” he said. “It’s time to make it right.”
In addition to taxes, this year Seifer’s team will help people get stimulus payments they may have missed. For those who didn’t get the first or second federal stimulus payment or any payment at all, there is a form they can file and receive the funds, he said.
CDC guidelines followed
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, volunteers are going to be wearing masks — and those coming in for assistance should wear masks as well, Seifer said. Everyone will practice social distancing, and there will be plexiglass panels separating people to keep everyone as safe as possible.
In addition, people can drop off their forms and pick them up once they are completed, he said.
The federal and state returns will be filed electronically, and local tax forms will be prepared for taxpayers to mail in, along with property tax and rent rebates, he said.
The tax group will also do business and rental returns, but not corporations. He does ask for a larger donation from those who seek to have business and rental returns completed as they are more complicated.
“If you give me $20, I probably won’t do your taxes next year,” he said of business owners. He did add, however, that if the donation is large enough, it can be claimed on next year’s tax return.
While many people don’t care for numbers, Seifer says he does.
“I was in the Air Force for 22 years, half in community and then I crossed over to finance,” he said. “I loved the number portion of it.”
In hindsight, the 1982 graduate of Tyrone Area High School should have probably taken more business classes in high school.
“I was always in the machine shop, but I should have been in the accounting class,” he said with a laugh.
After his time in the Air Force, he moved back to the area and has found a way to give back through doing taxes, a job that many dislike.
“All I’m using is my gift that God has given me,” Seifer said. “That’s what the volunteers are doing, too.”
“Our motto is ‘we just provide hope for people out there, one tax return at a time.'”‘
Volunteers at work
Volunteers with the New Life Worship Center Tax Team are already working on taxes, Scott Seifer said.
There are three ways to contact the group to set up an appointment: text or call 814-215-1933, email email@example.com or visit the Facebook page at New Life Worship Center Tax Team.
Those using the service will need to provide last year’s ( 2019) tax return; all tax documents for 2020, which may include W-2, 1099/1097s, receipts, mileage, expenses, losses, dividend income and more depending on the type of return being filed; Social Security numbers for all who will be on the 2020 tax return; birthdates of those being claimed as dependents; and a voided check if a refund is to be direct deposited.
Those with questions or who would like to complete back taxes are encouraged to contact Seifer.
At this time, the tax deadline remains Thursday, April 15.
If you go
What: Volunteer tax service provided by the New Life Worship Center Tax Team
Where: New Life Worship Center, 600 Ritts Road, Altoona, located off the Pinecroft exit of I-99.
When: 9 a.m. to about 4 p.m. Saturdays at the church. Appointments can be made. Dropoffs available during those hours.
Contact: There are three ways to contact the group to set up an appointment: text or call 814-215-1933, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the Facebook page at New Life Worship Center Tax Team.
Tax submissions: The IRS has delayed the start of accepting tax returns until Feb. 12. The program used by the tax team will hold them in a queue until the IRS site opens and then automatically submit them.