Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IRS extended the deadline to July 15 for everyone to file their federal income taxes.
But the 41 youth in Oregon Youth Authority facilities who had to file taxes this year didn’t need the extra time. With the help of volunteers from Oregon Department of Revenue, they already completed their tax forms back in mid-March.
For the past few years, a partnership between Revenue and OYA has led several Revenue staff members to help youth go through their tax forms line by line, to ensure they are filling them out correctly.
Revenue employees Bryan Gebhardt and Kellie White spent four whole days in February and March meeting with youth via Skype for Business.
JoAnna Sanders, OYA’s trust and grant accountant, scheduled all the meetings. Facility staff on the other side of the calls also helped the youth navigate the forms.
Some might be surprised to hear that any incarcerated youth needed to file their own taxes. The number who must file is small: only those who are considered “independent contractors” and make $400 or more.
This year, the 41 youth who met the criteria had earned those wages through their jobs on their facility campus or out in the community. Many youth at OYA’s transitional facilities have the opportunity to find community jobs as a way to help prepare for their transition out of custody.
Gebhardt also helped OYA youth with their taxes last year, but this year was White’s first time volunteering. One of her first OYA clients, Justin H. at MacLaren Youth Correctional Facility, kept stopping the session to ask questions about the forms.
He said he hopes to own his own business when he is released, and he was eager to learn more for future reference.
White patiently explained how his future business expenses could potentially be tax deductible, and how Social Security and Medicare contributions work.
Gebhardt said that part of their goal was to help the youth understand how important it is to be organized and have all the right information ready when you file.
“There are a lot of boxes, a lot of places to sign, and if you don’t do it correctly, the return can get rejected,” he said.
“One thing we tried to iterate was that when they do get out, this is something that’s very important to do every single year at about this time,” he added. “We’re teaching them the importance of it so that when they’re out, they can potentially do it themselves.”