By Julia Scott via The Bridge Newsletter.
It won’t be long until the joy of the holidays gives way to the sting of tax season. But a special, free, tax preparation service offered by Puente helps the medicine go down – and even leave a pleasant aftertaste.
Puente’s program, now in its 5th year, helps low-income South Coast residents prepare hassle-free tax returns through Earn It! Keep It! Save It!, a regional program sponsored by United Way. The service is offered free of charge.
The best part: participants walk in the door convinced they’ll have to part with a large chunk of their income. Many of them are delighted to discover that they qualify for substantial tax refunds, says Rita Mancera, Program Director for Puente.
Last year Puente helped 59 participants file their taxes, resulting in refunds totaling $73,608.
For a large family getting by on a farmworker’s salary, that’s very encouraging news.
“Their income is very low, and things are very expensive in California,” says Mancera. “Even if you go to Safeway for groceries, everything is more expensive than if you go to one of the Mexican stores. I think it’s important that they keep every dollar they can and that it stretches as far as it can.”
Take Samantha [name changed to protect privacy], a local mother who filed her taxes for the first time last year with Puente. She was enrolled in college and her education, along with a large number of dependents, qualified her family for a whopping $8,000 in tax refunds.
“They were very surprised,” says Mancera. “They didn’t know what the education credits meant to them until we helped them prepare their tax return.”
Half the people who file taxes with Puente don’t have Social Security numbers, but they still have to file taxes. This group of people uses ITINs, or Individual Tax Preparation Numbers, to meet their tax obligations. Puente is one of the only tax preparers on the Peninsula that offers this service, according to Mancera.
“For the purposes of tax time, everyone is considered a resident,” she says.
Now Puente needs YOUR help. Puente needs a few volunteers to prepare taxes for your South Coast neighbors. The job entails 3 hours of work per week during tax time, and a 15-hour self-guided training to get qualified. To volunteer, please contact Abby Mohaupt no later than January 11 at firstname.lastname@example.org or 650.879.1691.