240 families file taxes for free through NECC
Reprinted with permission from The Millerton News, copyright The Lakeville Journal Company, LLC, 2012.
MILLERTON — Residents of 28 different towns in three states came to North East Community Center’s (NECC) headquarters in Millerton and to the Heart of Pine Plains (HoPP) community center, which allowed NECC volunteers to create a second tax preparation site there this year.
Under the leadership of NECC Program Coordinator Jennie Poidomani, who trained and supervised the volunteer preparers, families, senior citizens, students and others, mostly low-income people were able to get all the credits they were entitled to, including Earned Income Tax Credits, child tax credits and education credits.
Because the volunteers efiled the returns, most filers got their refunds, which totaled $293,361 in federal refunds and $71,876 in state refunds, within about two weeks. (That’s not counting the average of $200 to $300 clients saved in tax preparation fees). Those funds create a tremendous boost for the local economy — the United Way of Dutchess County, which sponsors the program in the region, estimates that every dollar of refund creates an additional $1.50 in economic activity.
The program, called the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, is sponsored by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), which provides training and certification to the volunteer preparers, who must pass a series of tests on tax knowledge, use of the software and privacy and ethics.
The training allows the preparers to do a wide-range of returns including itemizing, education credits and sales of assets. Some of NECC’s volunteers also got advanced certification in special topics such as cancellation of debt and health savings accounts, so that very few clients need to be referred elsewhere.
NECC is one of a nearly a dozen organizations that participates in the Hudson Valley CASH Coalition, which organizes the tax sites, does outreach to bring in volunteers and clients, offers a wide-range of social services to clients who need more assistance and seeks funding to support the service.
The CASH Coalition consists of the United Way of the Dutchess-Orange Region; Catholic Charities; AARP Tax Aide; the IRS; Cornell Cooperative Extension Dutchess County; the Dutchess County Community Action Partnership; North East Community Center; Pathstone; Taconic Resources for Independence; Hudson Valley Region 2-1-1; Hudson Valley Federal Credit Union; Citizens Bank; New York State Department of Social Services; and Fidelis Care. Together, these organizations prepared close to 4,000 returns across Dutchess, Orange and Ulster counties.
Locally, the NECC noted some statistics about the filers this year:
•The average adjusted gross income was about $21,300.
•The average age was 42, but filers ranged in age from 18 to 90.
•A total of 58 clients (24 percent) received the earned income tax credit; the average credit was $1,400.
•A total of 58 clients received child tax credits.
•A total of 19 received education credits.
•A total of 37 people were on unemployment for some part of the year.
About 75 percent of filers lived in NECC’s primary service area of the six towns in northeastern Dutchess County (Millerton, Amenia, Dover, Washington, Stanford and Pine Plains) but the rest came from towns all over Dutchess County, Columbia County, northwest Connecticut and Massachusetts.
NECC is also able to file taxes for workers who do not have social security numbers; most can get an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) and pay taxes on any earnings. NECC prepared taxes for 16 workers with ITINs and filed two applications for people wanting to obtain an ITIN. Thanks to a partnership with the Dutchess Community Action Partnership’s NEDCorps, translation services were available to any taxpayers who needed such help.
This was NECC’s sixth year as a tax preparation site, and along with Poidomani, volunteers this year included Edith Greenwood, Gabriella Pragman and Bonnie Lodevole, each of whom devoted many hours to training and preparing taxes. Anyone interested in participating next year can contact the NECC for more information and to learn about the training schedule, which usually begins in early January.
Jenny Hansell is the executive director of the North East Community Center.