The MEDA free tax preparation team had quite the three-month season from mid-January to mid-April 2016. Over 4,000 returns were filed, translating to $5.8 million in refunds. This is just one way MEDA builds community capital for the historically underresourced community of the Mission District.
MEDA’s indefatigable tax team, run by staff and supported by over 130 volunteers during the season, now runs the largest free tax preparation service in the San Francisco Bay Area. MEDA has four sites in the city, including the nonprofit’s neighborhood center, Plaza Adelante (photo).
Yet April 15 is not the end of their work for the year. Hardly.
The community still needs assistance, and MEDA is the only Spanish-speaking free tax service that is open all year.
“My tax team is here to help throughout the year. Doing taxes for free in the Mission is vital, as many of our low-income clients cannot afford the usual fee of a minimum of hundreds of dollars to get tax issues addressed,” explains MEDA Tax Program Manager Max Moy-Borgen of the need.
One such need is setting up an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for clients. An ITIN is a tax-processing number issued by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It is a nine-digit number that the IRS issues to foreign nationals and others who have federal tax reporting or filing requirements and do not qualify for a Social Security Number.
There is also a need for preparing returns for those who filed extensions or never got their taxes done in the first place, which may have occurred for various reasons. For example, there may have been a family crisis, as many clients coming in this time of year report health problems or lost their housing during the tax season.
Another reason may be fear.
MEDA Tax Site Coordinator Owen Thompson sees such anxiety every week. He explains, “Some of our families feel overwhelmed about getting their taxes done. Maybe they haven’t filed taxes for years and are afraid of how much money they owe, although many times these low-income clients still get a refund in such cases.“
Then there are times when the MEDA tax team needs to address a very complicated situation to make things right for a client.
One story of need
Take the thorny case of tax client Joyce Kilona, who experienced an incorrect income statement. Majorly incorrect.
Turns out her 2011 income of $800 was denoted on her 1099-MISC as 100 times as much – a staggering $80,000! Joyce then filed her taxes with this amount denoted. Problems ensued.
That’s why the 24-year-old finally came to MEDA for free help.
Joyce had been experiencing wage garnishments from the IRS – erroneous deductions from her paychecks that didn’t stop until MEDA refiled her 2011 and 2013 taxes with the correct annual income being reported.
Like most MEDA clients, Joyce needs every cent to which she is entitled, so that she can afford to live in the expensive Bay Area. This meant the garnishments had been especially problematic for the young woman.
The California Franchise Tax Board had also been garnishing Joyce’s checks, so the MEDA tax team dealt with this issue, too. Now the task is getting remuneration for Joyce for the money that should not have been taken out in the first place; this process has been started, but will take several months to be 100 percent remedied.
“As Joyce’s story showcases, we’re changing lives daily … throughout the entire calendar year. MEDA’s tax team is specially trained to service the needs of our low-income clients — many who are immigrants. We are always here to help,” sums up Moy-Borgen.
If you are interested in free tax services, please call: (415) 282-3334 ext. 178; firstname.lastname@example.org/a>.