For most qualifying Mainers, getting an $850 COVID relief check was as simple as checking the mailbox. But many low-income residents who most need the funds might miss out altogether if not for a network of volunteer tax preparers.

“There’s money sitting on the table, but they don’t know about it,” said AARP Counselor Roger Walker, who spent Wednesday at Bath Housing’s administrative office helping more than a dozen residents file 2021 state tax returns. “It’s a huge amount of money for people that don’t have very much.”

An estimated 858,000 full-year Maine residents making under $100,000 are eligible for the $850 checks, according to the governor’s office. Yet those eligible must file a state tax return — something low- and fixed-income residents often don’t do.

“People have told them, ‘You don’t need to file taxes,’” Walker said. “Well, that’s true; they’re not doing anything wrong by not filing. But there’s money that the state is trying to give away that they don’t know about, and these are the people that need it the most.”

For some seniors like Bath resident Joanne Devlin, the idea of filing a tax return can be daunting.

“I thought to myself, ‘Well I don’t want to go and do my taxes because I haven’t done them for 20, 25 years,’” Devlin said. “I’m not that computer savvy to do it on my own.”


Volunteer preparers from the AARP’s Tax-Aid program and United Way’s Ca$h Maine have raced to help people like Devlin quickly file tax returns before the state’s Oct. 31 deadline.

“Get them in there, and then the state will sort it out and then the state will send them their check,” said Steve Cohen, site manager for Midcoast Ca$h. “That’s all we have to do.”

Midcoast Ca$h volunteers are used to spending the months ahead of the tax deadline helping low-income residents file state and federal returns, Cohen said. But with $850 checks and an additional $130 Sales Tax Fairness credit at stake, the organization worked beyond April this year.

Over the course of three sessions in May and June, the team filed just under 150 state tax returns that will result in relief checks, he said.

Though Midcoast Ca$h doesn’t currently have any more drop-in sessions scheduled, a steady stream of people is still reaching out to the organization for help, according to Anne Sheehy, volunteer and program coordinator at United Way of Mid Coast Maine.

“I’ve gotten quite a few calls,” she said. “Folks are working really hard to find the people who need the services the most, but I don’t know that we’re able to catch as many people as I think we all wish we could.”


Getting the word out to retirees and other low-income residents has been difficult, according to Sonia St. Pierre, a Brunswick resident and local coordinator for the AARP tax aid program. While Pierre’s volunteers have helped close to 100 people qualify for their checks this summer, some have grown frustrated that the state tied relief checks to a tax system that many of Maine’s neediest residents aren’t a part of.

“We didn’t agree with what they came up with, St. Pierre said. “It seems like they could have made it a little bit easier.”

Despite logistical hurdles, local tax assistance programs have found success by working with existing organizations that support low income and older residents.

“This community partnership has been a really great illustration of what we do here in Maine to support people,” said Bath Housing Executive Director Deb Keller. It’s been a beautiful collaborative effort.”

Through multifaceted communications network that includes a monthly newsletter, an automated calling system and staff visits to onsite foodbanks, Bath Housing managed to alert its residents to three AARP visit this week and last, Keller said. 30 are on track to receive their checks as a result.

At the Gathering Place in Brunswick, many regulars were initially skeptical when a United Way volunteer arrived to help them file tax returns, according to Executive Director Mary Connolly. Yet after a few people filed and successfully got their checks, others began to line up for help.


“I definitely think the community effort has helped,” she said. “Without it, a large number of people in this greater community would not have been able to access this program and would have lost out on a benefit that is going to really be helpful.”

That benefit’s impact cannot be overstated, according to Keller.

“It’s huge,” she said. “The average income of our residents is $16,100 a year. $850 provides a little cushion for people that don’t often have a cushion.”

After returning to Bath Housing tomorrow, Walker plans on reaching out to retirement communities in Boothbay to see if they need assistance. Like other volunteers, he’s worried that a significant number of Mainers won’t get the help they need by Oct. 31.

Still, Walker said he plans on doing what he can until the last moment: “I’ve still got a month and a half.”

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