Volume 20, Number 42 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | FEB. 29 - MARCH 6, 2008

Free tax return help means big checks for low income filers

Sally only made $17,000 last year but received $5,720 in tax returns after filing her taxes for free at Henry Street Settlement’s Workforce Development Center earlier this year.

Sally (not her real name) is a mother of two preschool children and works as a school aide. Although the check comprised nearly a third of her income, Sally was not surprised by the sizable tax return as she has taken advantage of Henry Street’s tax preparation before.

“That’s what I usually get back,” Sally said in a telephone interview, “and the big check always comes first.”

Sally is also expecting about $1,800 in state tax returns besides her Earned Income Tax Credit.

Jennifer Romero, a retention assistant at Henry Street Settlement’s Workforce Development Center, said most people are also unaware of the 30 public benefit programs the government offers and don’t deem themselves eligible for its most prominent programs — food stamps, healthcare, and Medicaid.

This year there is a new tax benefit, the New York City Child Care Tax Credit, which assists low income or underemployed families with the cost of childcare for children under the age of four. According to the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance, 49,000 New York City families will qualify for this benefit.

Henry Street Settlement, a non-profit organization, is one of a few tax preparation sites in Lower Manhattan that offer free tax preparation for people with an annual income below $40,000 with children, and less than $20,000 without children.

To qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit, the gross income of a single parent with two or more children must be less than $37,783, and $12,590 with no children.

“I want people to be self-sufficient,” Romero said, “and our service can help you out in the long run.”

Romero also stressed that besides beating the crowds, filing taxes early means getting back money for low income people eligible for the program.

”The last two weeks,” she said, “that’s when it gets crazy.”

Henry Street Settlement’s Workforce Development Center at 99 Essex St. offers free tax preparation Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Walk-ins are welcome Monday and Wednesday 10 a.m. to noon. To schedule an appointment, call (212) 478-5400x 214 or 215.

Other free tax preparation sites can be found by calling (212) 822-9584, a Cash Back hotline set up by the anti-poverty initiative from the Citizens Committee for New York City.

A tax preparation site for people who speak Chinese is located at the New York Chinese Community Center at 62 Mott St., which offers free tax preparation on weekends only until April 13. Appointments are mandatory and can be scheduled by calling (212) 226-6280.

Sally will use this year’s tax return to pay bills, save some money − and go on vacation.

“This summer,” she said, “I’m going to Disneyworld.”

— Sebastian Kahnert



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