Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXV, No. 16
Wednesday, April 20, 2011
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Over 200 Area Households Served This Year By Free Bilingual Tax Preparation Program

Dilshanie Perera

Having struggled through another season of filing taxes, residents may not know about a source of assistance within the Princeton community. The Bilingual Tax Preparation Clinic is a unique resource formed jointly by AARP of Mercer County and the Latin American Legal Defense and Education Fund (LALDEF) that works with residents, answers tax-related questions, and assists them in electronically filing their tax returns.

While the program is aimed at Spanish-speaking immigrants and the elderly, anyone is welcome to participate. Now in its tenth year, the free tax clinic served approximately 200 low and moderate income households and was offered on Saturdays through February, March, and April, in the LALDEF office at the Nassau Presbyterian Church.

LALDEF Executive Director Maria Juega explained that the program “started under the aegis of the Latin American Task Force, and when we created LALDEF, we took it on.” The partnership is mutually beneficial since AARP provides the technical tax expertise from volunteers certified by the IRS, and LALDEF recruits bilingual volunteers and engages in community outreach.

AARP program coordinator Carol Ober noted that there are 12 such sites all over Mercer County that provide tax assistance, and estimated 2,500 returns being filed through these clinics.

Those who volunteer their time with the LALDEF tax clinic are “typically professionals from area corporations” and are sometimes students from Princeton University or Princeton High School. Many return in subsequent years to volunteer again. Ms. Juega said that “half of them are regulars and half of them are new volunteers. We have a remarkable degree of retention.”

“It is a very rewarding program,” Ms. Juega continued. “Folks are very motivated to work in the program when they see the impact it has on families...we are dealing with some members of our community with the greatest economic needs. It is great to facilitate their access to resources.”

Ms. Juega observed that some families participating in the tax clinic for the first time do not realize they will get money back, or that they may be entitled to some tax credits. “It’s an educational process that needs to take place,” she conceded. In one instance, approximately five years of back taxes were tabulated and filed, and the recipients had a “sizable amount of money coming their way.”

While some may assume that undocumented immigrants may not pay taxes, Ms. Juega cited a statistic from the Social Security Administration estimating that three out of four unauthorized immigrants have taxes deducted from their paycheck or payroll, or file income taxes.

Undocumented persons are able to obtain a taxpayer identification number from the IRS, which would allow them to file taxes or utilize for fiscal purposes only. “We find that many folks do this,” Ms. Juega said, pointing out that it is also applicable to those who are self employed, or who accept cash payments for their work.

LALDEF encourages unauthorized persons to file taxes, and Ms Juega noted that while there may be “some trepidation initially, we’ve done a lot of education of the years, pointing out the advantages and the obligation.”

To apply for legal residency, a person must provide proof that they are able to make a living by working, and show that they have been paying taxes and have complied with the law, Ms. Juega explained. Eligibility for food stamps, Medicaid, and financial aid for education all also require proof of income.

Though the April 18 deadline for filing taxes has since passed and the tax clinic program is officially over for the year, those needing more information or contemplating filing back taxes may drop by the LALDEF office at the Nassau Presbyterian Church on Saturday between 10 a.m. and 12 noon. or visit laldef.org.

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