By BILL FRITSCHEN

Some might ask, "What in the world is the AARP Tax-Aide program?" For those who are curious, it is a program run completely by volunteers who provide free income tax preparation for those with lower and moderate incomes with emphasis on, but not limited to, those 55 years of age or older.

The AARP Tax-Aide program is a national program with tax sites in every state.

Thus far this year, the Hays Tax-Aide program has prepared 607 federal tax returns. Federal refunds coming back to the area total $264,765. Total Earned Income Credit coming back into the community thus far totals $76,342.

This does not include the many returns filed to enable low-income taxpayers to receive the Kansas Food Sales Tax refund and the Homestead refunds to help with property tax and rental payments for low-income taxpayers.

Many of the taxpayers using the Tax-Aide program are disabled in some manner or are quite elderly and, frankly, cannot afford to use a paid tax professional as the fees to prepare their taxes eat up the refund received.

So, you might ask, why does the program need saving? Good question. The answer is a simple one. The Tax-Aide program is in great danger of simply disappearing from the Hays area, including all the surrounding communities. Why is that? It is because Tax-Aide is staffed completely by volunteers and not enough new volunteers are stepping up to the plate to keep it alive.

Those who are in the program are working rather long hours to accommodate the demand for their services, and some might have to leave the program for various reasons. Some have been doing it for a long time and wish to step down. This year, the Hays Tax-Aide site had six tax preparers, three quality review people, and three client facilitators who took appointment calls and helped manage the tax site. Presently, there is a possibility that several of those tax preparers, quality reviewers and client facilitators will not be returning next year.

Unless members of the Hays community are willing to join the program, it might be unable to continue its present tax return volume and might indeed simply be forced to close its doors. That would mean that approximately 600 to 700 taxpayers in the area would either pay to have their taxes done (some could do that), do their taxes themselves (that doesn't always work out very well) or not have them done at all.

Not filing a return could have negative consequences and prevent some taxpayers from receiving refunds they need and deserve. The Hays community is filled with well-educated, well-meaning and caring people. It is hard to imagine that a community such as Hays could not manage to continue a program that helps so many people.

What are the qualifications to become a Tax-Aide tax preparer?

* It is best if you are retired, as doing this does require a commitment and some time.

* You do not need to belong to AARP.

* You do need to be computer-literate enough to operate a laptop computer.

* You do not need to know a great deal about taxes, as training is provided.

What happens if you decide to join?

* You are provided a laptop computer to use.

* You are provided materials you use to learn the required tax laws.

* You attend a local tax school, where you are further trained and also learn how to use the tax software provided by the IRS.

* You meet some really great people, and you eventually have the satisfaction of having the profound thanks of the people you help.

Being a Tax-aide volunteer is a rewarding event in your life. If you are interested, call Bill or Judy Fritschen at (785) 625-3799. You will be contacted. Please give it some very serious consideration.

Bill Fritschen is the state coordinator of TaxAide Program. A former educator, he lives in Hays with his wife, Judy, who is the Hays site director for the AARP TaxAide program.