WMU group helps rural Alaskans do their taxes

contact: Jeanne Baron
| WMU News
Two WMU students, Kayla Combs and Kayla Poole, pose on an iced-over lake, forming a W with their outstretched arms.

Combs, left, and Poole

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—It took planes and snowmobiles to get there, but an intrepid group from Western Michigan University recently visited four rural Alaskan villages and prepared 300 tax returns for local residents.

The group, headed by Dr. Fritz Allhoff, professor of philosophy, included four WMU students from Michigan. This was the fourth year Allhoff has led a tax-assistance delegation to remote villages in western Alaska.

The students participating this year were:

  • Kayla Combs, a senior from Three Rivers majoring in accountancy.
  • Nick Labadie, a senior from Davison majoring in accountancy.
  • Kayla Poole, a senior from Jackson majoring in aviation management and operations.
  • Kaylee Ronn, a junior from Negaunee majoring in finance.

Snowmobiles sit parked outside a red school building, Kaltag Elementary and Secondary School.WMU's Department of Philosophy participates in the Internal Revenue Service's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program with help from the University's Haworth College of Business.

In 2018, the group from WMU spent five days working with 300 individuals and families in the villages of Kaltag, Koyuku, Napaskiak and Nulato. Numerous other volunteer groups worked with people in other locations around Alaska.

"Overall, the tax-assistance program services 150 native villages and does about 7,000 returns," Allhoff reports. "Those returns generate about $8 million in refunds for the villagers. Part of the point is that they get their withholdings back because their income is so low."

He adds that the tax preparations take place in rural, indigenous villages that can only be accessed by small planes and snowmobiles, or snow machines, as they're known throughout Alaska.

A red and orange sunset is the backdrop to a scenic Alaskan landscape."It's certainly a great experience, but also an important service project that brings tax support to those in need and who lack resources," Allhoff says. "It's also a great opportunity for our students to go through pretty comprehensive training and to have a new experience."

In addition to support from WMU's Haworth College of Business and Department of Philosophy, the program is co-funded by the federal government, Alaska Business Development Center and various native corporations.

For more WMU news, arts and events, visit wmich.edu/news.