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Winter Weather, Pandemic Won't Stop Free ND Tax Help

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Legal Services of North Dakota says one reason it helps low-income households with free income-tax preparation is so they don't pay high fees for a firm to do the work, negating any tax refund they might receive. (Adobe Stock)
Legal Services of North Dakota says one reason it helps low-income households with free income-tax preparation is so they don't pay high fees for a firm to do the work, negating any tax refund they might receive. (Adobe Stock)
 By Mike Moen, Public News Service - ND - Producer, Contact
February 25, 2021

BELCOURT, N.D. -- Despite the recent arctic blast and ongoing challenges of the pandemic, a North Dakota group is reaching out in tribal areas to help low-income residents complete their tax returns.

Legal Services of North Dakota is again partnering with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) to provide free assistance.

Each weekday during tax season, a volunteer will be available by appointment at either the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation or Spirit Lake Reservation.

Rhonda Belgarde-Baker, tribal advocate for Legal Services of North Dakota, said there are traditional obstacles for filing some of these returns, including internet access, and this year, she's had to get creative to respect safety precautions.

"Clients have to wait in their vehicles while their returns are prepared," Belgarde-Baker explained. "And I then have to go out to their vehicle and go over the return, line by line."

She added in some parts of the winter, the volunteer work was performed in sub-zero temperatures.

But Belgarde-Baker, who's been doing this for more than 15 years, remarked she strives to keep going, not only for tribal members, but for remote communities that surround the reservations.

Legal Services noted because of the pandemic, no walk-ins will be accepted.

Belgrade-Baker stressed going over tax-law changes and eliminating confusion is another important element of the service. That includes determining whether the client is still waiting on a federal stimulus payment.

"They may have received payment number one, but they didn't receive payment number two, for whatever reason," Belgrade-Baker clarified.

Because of its partnership with the IRS, Legal Services has the software to look up key details.

She emphasized determining whether a person is still entitled to a payment is vital, since it can have an impact on what they might get or owe on this year's taxes.

Clients need to meet income requirements to receive help. Appointments can be made by calling 800-634-5263.

Disclosure: Legal Services of North Dakota contributes to our fund for reporting on Health Issues, Livable Wages/Working Families, Native American Issues, and Senior Issues. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
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