Drake Law alumni organize tax preparation services on reservation in nation's poorest county
Rhonda Hawk, Crow Creek Boys and Girls Club director, Jason Yates, Silas Blaine, superintendent for Crow Creek Tribal Schools and Dustin Miller
Drake Law School graduates Jason Yates and Dustin Miller are offering free tax preparation and low-cost refund loans to residents of Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Reservation in Buffalo County, S.D.
Miller and Yates, who graduated with Agricultural Law Certificates in 2008, co-direct the nonprofit Harvest Initiative
as a way to support socially responsible business development to move Crow Creek toward a self-sustaining economy.
The Harvest Initiative is sponsoring Internal Revenue Service-trained volunteers who have come to the reservation to do free income tax preparation and help tribe members avoid tax refund loan gouging. The program was featured in an article
in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.
Studies show that Buffalo County has one of the highest rates of low-income taxpayers who seek high-cost refund anticipation loans. This ends up costing them hundreds of dollars of the return money.
In an effort to combat this, Yates and Miller worked to set up the first Volunteer Income Tax Assistance site in South Dakota that provides low-cost refund loans.
"More than 60 percent of taxpayers there use those high-cost products," said Yates, director of operations and strategy. "We want to put another option out there so they aren't losing a significant portion of their returns."
Working with Advent-Affordable Financial Solutions, Harvest Initiative's program will allow taxpayers to quickly access a large portion of their refunds. The refunds will be deposited into an FDIC-insured, prepaid MasterCard.
"On a reservation like this, where you don't have the traditional mainstream banks, they can use the Mastercard for just about anything," Yates said. "This way, the fee for them to access their refund is no more than $20."
Tax preparation volunteers, most of whom are from the Des Moines area, have been trained by the IRS to prepare basic tax returns. They also focus on special credits, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit. Yates said he hopes they can help with 100 to 150 tax returns before the program ends on April 15.