As the only Resource Center on the South Coast, Puente provides Economic Security assistance to the residents of the communities of Pescadero, La Honda, San Gregorio and Loma Mar. Puente’s Tax program is a key component in building our community’s economic capacity and sets out to establish financial health in all of the four communities.
Since the inception of our Tax Preparation program 2008, its impact has been staggering. Puente has filed over 430 federal tax returns and nearly 410 state tax returns, resulting in over $500,000 in refunds for local taxpayers. Most of these refund dollars remain in our local area and are often equivalent to a month or more in wages. Puente has also been an ITIN Acceptance Agent, the only one to serve the areas of Pescadero, La Honda, Loma Mar and San Gregorio.
A recent study found that despite significant gains in the U.S. economy following the Great Recession, finances remain a common source of stress for many American households. A recent survey evidence has found that almost half of lower income households are either “finding it difficult to get by” or “just getting by.” The financial stress faced by many low-income households may increase the risk of experiencing other mental health symptoms, negatively affect parental quality, and lead to adverse developmental and academic outcomes for children .
The impact of a simple tax program for low-income households and families cannot be overstated. A tax refund can have a tremendous impact on how the rest of the year plays out financially. It is about advocating for our community to keep what they have earned and promoting savings as a foundation to a sound economic future.
Most recently, we finalized a case of an individual with whom we had been working closely for about two years. Silverio Perez came to us because he had received several letters from the IRS stating that he had a balance due on a tax return from years back. After taking a closer look at his taxes, it appeared that the agency that had filed his return had made some errors. They had entered incorrect information without properly screening him and asking essential intake questions. Because of these errors, he expected his tax refund to be $4,200. He soon found out that not only would he not receive the refund, but would in fact, owe the $4,200. Puente was able to help him file an amended return.
After making the corrections needed on his return, he still had a balance due but it was only a fraction of the large amount charged. He agreed on the amount and we filed. We then followed up by calling the IRS. The first time we called, we spent four hours on the phone. When we finally spoke to someone, the person let us know it would take several weeks for his taxes to be processed and corrected, and that they would send him a notice informing him when the changes would be reflected in his records. For the months that followed, the he received letters from the IRS, which he would bring to Puente for us to translate. These letters only let him know that the amount he owed was increasing and that his case was still pending. What normally might be a 30-minute appointment to look over the letters, turned into a 2 to 3 hour periods of being on hold and waiting until we spoke to someone from the IRS. Over the course of the 2 years, Silverio had to miss several days of work trying to resolve his case with little avail only to hear the same response from the IRS when we would call.
In November of this past year, Silverio came to us and said that he wanted to pay the money owed. He was exhausted with going back and forth with the IRS and that it was affecting his job as well. He had several money orders with him that he wanted to mail to the IRS. We advised him not to send all the money, but instead, to send only a portion and wait. Three weeks later, Silverio came to see if we could assist him when he was out of work because he had gotten another letter from the IRS. When he came in and we read the letter, it stated that he was getting a refund because of an overpayment made. We decided to call the IRS one last time. The person who we spoke to, let us know that his case had been resolved. His amended return was accepted and the amount he owed, reduced to reflect the corrections we made. The letter he received was correct, saying he had made an overpayment and that he would receive his overpayment refund within weeks. Silverio was glad this ordeal finally ended and was relieved that he did not have to think about it anymore.
Supporting individuals and families through the arduous tax season is something that we feel very privileged to be a part of as an organization. Becoming a VITA tax site is no easy feat. There are numerous trainings and logistics to maneuver. However, as part of a resource center and non-profit that believes in empowerment and supporting our community to become economically secure, we believe that this service is not only necessary, but also transformative. We strongly encourage participants to save a percentage of their tax return. Being able to save and make informed decisions about finances is not only empowering, it is an opportunity to learn new habits and build a more sustainable future.
Let our tax experts do the work for you – free. Services are available to South Coast households with a 2016 income of $54,000 or less. Come in to see if you qualify, and find out if you are eligible for the California Earned Income Tax Credit.