Tax Season Begins With Help for Low-Income New Yorkers

By Jill Colvin on January 30, 2012 4:03pm 

Asset specialist Jessica Perez said she helped sign up many people for the program to help save for kids' college tuition and other expenses.
Asset specialist Jessica Perez said she helped sign up many people for the program to help save for kids' college tuition and other expenses.
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DNAinfo/Jill Colvin

QUEENS — As a factory worker making beauty products on Long Island, Digna Garag says she struggles to make ends meet.

So the 67-year-old followed the advice of a friend, and visited the Transfiguration of Christ Church in Corona, Queens Monday, one of 69 tax centers where low-income New Yorkers can get free filing assistance courtesy of the Food Bank for NYC.

Though a translator, Garag, who only speaks Spanish, said she hoped staff would be able to help put her on the right financial track.

“She doesn't have money to pay for taxes," said the translator. "It's really hard for her to save," he said.

City officials kicked off the start of the dreaded tax season Monday by highlighting a handful of programs designed to help low-income New Yorkers like Garag keep more of their paychecks and save their returns to put them on firmer financial ground.

“Many, many struggling families unfortunately don’t necessarily understand that there is money that they’re leaving on the table,” said City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras, who joined Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other city officials at the church, where about half a dozen certified volunteers were on hand to offer advice.

The centers, which are open to families earning less than $50,000 a year and single residents earning less than $18,000, are now open across the city, with locations in every borough, including the Carver Financial Literacy Center at 300 W. 145th St. in Manhattan.

In addition to the centers, the city has several other programs to save on tax filings.

New Yorkers earning less than $41,000, or $31,000 if they have no children, can take advantage of a city coupon that offers tax return preparations through H&R Block for $29. Coupons to sign up for the program are available here.

Those who prefer to file online can also file taxes for free using sites like TurboTax or Beehive through the city’s website at nyc.gov, if they earn less than $57,000 a year.

The city is also once again taking part in SaveUSA, a pilot program that encourages families to save their tax returns by giving those who are selected to participate 50 cents in matching federal and private funds for every dollar they save, up to $500.

Last year, nearly 2,500 New Yorkers with an average salary of $16,000 were able to save $250,000 through the program, amounting to more than $800 per account.

The city hopes the program, which is also being tested in Newark, N.J., San Antonio, TX, and Tulsa, OK will help about 1,600 New Yorkers next year, Department of Consumer Affairs Commissioner Jonathan Mintz said.

Families must make under $50,000 and individuals under $18,000 to qualify.

Dad Raymond Garcia, who works as a designer for Home Depot and is raising two children in Emhurst Queens, said he was able to save $750 through the program last year, and this year plans to invest another $750, with the hopes of saving another $1,125 by 2013.

“My kids are going to love buying new sneakers,” said Garcia, who said he also hopes to use his savings to help pay off bills.

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