The IRS is collecting taxes, instead of boats and fishing permits, with the help of the Volunteer Tax and Loan Program.
The program, started by the Alaska Business Development Center in 1996, assists people in villages, including Hoonah, Angoon, Kake, Klawock and Hydaburg, with their taxes.
Before the program started, the Internal Revenue Service was threatening to take the boats and permits, and with it the livelihood, of fishermen who were delinquent on taxes, said tax and loan program manager Maria Boukhonina.
``The main reason we started our program was people who do not comply with IRS, who do not do taxes in time, they were in danger of losing the limited-entry permits,'' Boukhonina said.
The program was so successful it recently won national recognition from the Drucker Foundation. The tax preparation program was selected as one of three nonprofit organizations from 256 nominated for the 1999 Peter F. Drucker Award for Nonprofit Innovation.
``The Selection Committee singled this program out from a field of impressive entries because it harnessed the energy of volunteers to address effectively a very specific challenge - Alaskan Native fishers' need for tax preparation services to comply with the IRS,'' said Patrick Waide Jr., president of the Drucker Foundation.
``This specific program has helped numerous individuals protect their way of life and secure their livelihoods and independence,'' he said.
Boukhonina figures about 240 fishing jobs were saved by the program in 1998, 18 of them in Southeast.
And the program isn't limited to fishermen. While in Southeast, the volunteers did 254 tax returns, some going back several years.
The response was particularly good in Angoon and Kake. In Angoon, 88 people turned up for help. In Kake, the turnout was 71.
The Volunteer Tax and Loan Program usually comes to Southeast Alaska around the end of March. Posters will announce the exact day before they arrive.
This article first appeared in the Southeast Empire.