OKMULGEE, Oklahoma– It’s that time of year again to start filing taxes, and if you are needing assistance the Muscogee (Creek) Nation VITA-TCE Tax Program is available for all qualified Native and non-Native citizens in the Muscogee reservation.
The VITA Tax Program or the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program is a joint partnership between the Nation or other nonprofits and the IRS. The grant provides free tax filing services for tax payers in the United States that are qualified based on the income.
Participants must make less than $58,000 per household or tax return for free services to qualify. The program does offer an electronic online file for self-prepare, if income is less than $72,000.
According to VITA Program Coordinator Zechariah Harjo, the Nation has provided a tax program since 2017. Harjo has been coordinator for three years and says there has been a Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) grant program every year, and this tax season the VITA grant was granted to MCN.
“We are the third tribe to get the VITA grant, the two others are the Cherokee’s and Chickasaw’s,” Harjo said.
The qualification of $58,000 on a tax return is based on one person. This means returns requiring to claim a dependent, like a child living with their parents or if there is another adult in the same household the program, do not qualify for the program. If there is a joint couple filing and made over the qualified amount, then services will not be provided.
Tribal citizens may be questioning if they are eligible for the state tax exemption and the changes to tax filing due to the McGirt decision in mid 2020.
According to Harjo, the McGirt decision has not had an effect on the way taxes are filed and eligibility for state tax exemption has not changed.
He said there are three important things that qualify a tribal member for exemption.
“The biggest and most important one is that tribal citizens must live on trust or restricted property,” Harjo said.
He claimed most would know if the property they reside on falls in that category.
“Because they are probably a descendant of their direct ancestor that qualified for the allotment,” he said.
The Nation’s Realty Department keeps a record of all trust and restricted land if a citizen needs assistance in determining the status of a property.
Next, the property must be within the jurisdiction of the tribe the member is enrolled in.
“On trust property or restricted property, the Nation alone has the jurisdiction to levy taxes,” Harjo said. “The state has never had jurisdiction to levy personal income tax on that regardless before or after the McGirt ruling.”
As a law student, Harjo claimed to have studied many cases where the state has in fact levied taxes on these properties.
He stated the state of Oklahoma does not agree the McGirt ruling should levy an exemption for taxes,
Thirdly, the income of the tribal member must derive from Indian Country. Government, tribal, or tribal owned business qualify as derivatives of income.
When the tax payer is ready to receive assistance, the program is requesting certain documents to bring in upon appointment date. Those documents are a valid ID (driver’s license, state ID, tribal ID, etc.), copy of social security card and income information (W2’s, 1099, retirement income, etc.).
The program will be hosted at the MCN Okmulgee Indian Community Center and will operate in-person by appointment only every Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
For assistance and appointments call: 918-549-2607.
For more information about the VITA-TCE program, visit: muscogeenation.com/services/commerce.