WASHINGTON – Taxpayers normally cringe as April 15 creeps closer, but they can breathe easier this year because a government rebate check could soon be in the mail — as long as they file.
The government will put $152 billion back into the people’s pockets in an effort to jolt the slowing economy. But, the people need to do their part by filing their returns by next week’s deadline.
Many Social Security dependents, disabled veterans and railroad beneficiaries are also eligible for the rebate, but have until Oct. 15 to apply using a separate form since they don’t normally need to file taxes.
About 2.5 million Marylanders, including taxpayers who make more than $3,000 a year and those who don’t normally file returns are set to receive between $300 and $600 starting May 2. Couples could receive up to $1,200 and another $300 for each child.
Maryland lawmakers, agencies and nonprofits like the Baltimore CASH Campaign are getting the word out to retirees and low-income workers who don’t usually need to file tax returns because they either make too little or depend on government checks.
Any relief is significant because of ever-increasing gas, electric and food prices, said Joanna Smith-Ramani, executive director of the Baltimore CASH campaign.
“If you’re earning so little that you’re not filing taxes, I think $300 is an incredibly satisfying amount of money for you,” Smith-Ramani said. “It can be a real opportunity for them to either get ahead or come out from behind.”
The IRS sent out 340,000 packets to Social Security and Veterans Assistance dependents, who wouldn’t normally need to file, said Jim Dupree, an IRS spokesman. The Treasury Department expects Marylanders will receive about $2.1 billion as part of the rebates this year.
Dave Williams, president of the Maryland Association of Senior Centers, said the elderly who do receive the money will probably use it for the basics like medicine and food.
“Three hundred dollars can buy a lot of groceries,” Williams said.
Caretakers and the centers, Williams said, have been spreading the word to make sure the senior citizens get their due. The hardest part, Williams said, is convincing them to trust the IRS.
“I think that people who haven’t filed in a while are afraid. There is a suspicion out there among the seniors that government will have something on them,” Williams said. “It’s a shame that the attitude is there.”
The Maryland Department of Aging, spokeswoman Toni Price said, has dispersed stimulus information through its entire network. One thing seniors need to be aware of, Price said, is scammers who pretend to be from the IRS.
“There are scam artists out here waiting. It’s an ongoing problem,” Price said. “There are constantly a lot of scams and it’s perpetrated against seniors. They’re very vulnerable.”
The Department of Aging encourages seniors, Price said, to put their bank account number on the IRS forms so the rebate can be deposited directly.
Those who don’t need to file taxes have until October to apply for the stimulus, but Smith-Ramani said, the earlier you file, the earlier the check comes.
For those who miss the April 15 deadline, the Baltimore County Department of Aging, said Director Arnold Eppel, has planned help sessions at each of its 19 senior centers starting April 16.
“The reality is lots of people are so confused by taxes. It’s like you say taxes and they shut both ears,” Eppel said. “It’s a fairly easy form. You just have to know how to do it. That’s all.”
AARP, a national group that represents senior citizens, has a Tax-Aide program to help the elderly fill out tax forms.
AARP Tax-Aide sites across Maryland, said spokeswoman Tiffany Lundquist, have seen a definite increase of help-seekers over past years. Actual numbers won’t come out until after next week.