Department of Consumer Affairs Launches its Free Tax Prep Program at Chhaya CDC
City Expands Services to New Neighborhoods and Languages and, with Support from Citi, Launches Eligibility Screening and Texting Program and Pilot Queue Management System.
New Yorkers Earning $64,000 or Less Can File for Free at More Than 200 Sites Citywide or Online
NEW YORK, NY— Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) Commissioner Lorelei Salas today kicked off the tax season with the launch of the Agency’s 15th annual tax time campaign and encouraged New Yorkers who earned $64,000 or less to file for free using NYC Free Tax Prep. Commissioner Salas also announced the Agency’s continued expansion of NYC Free Tax Prep with the addition of services in neighborhoods and languages previously underserved, as well as an eligibility screening and texting program and a pilot queue management system. The announcement was made at Chhaya Community Development Corporation in Jackson Heights, one of the new neighborhoods served with multiplenew languages.
“When you work hard to make ends meet, as so many New Yorkers do, money should not be left on the table during tax time. A tax refund can be one of the largest checks people receive all year. In New York City, assistance with filing is absolutely free with NYC Free Tax Prep if you make less than $64,000. Not only is it free, our experts will help you take advantage of tax credits like EITC to make sure you get back what you earned,” said First Lady Chirlane McCray.
“Last year we helped New Yorkers file 160,000 returns for free and claim refund-boosting tax credits that can be pivotal in helping them pay bills, get out of debt and save for their future,” said DCA Commissioner Lorelei Salas. “This year, we are committed to helping connect even more NewYorkers with our trusted and professional free tax prep services because working New Yorkers deserve to get every penny of their hard-earned refund.”
NYC Free Tax Prep services include more than 200 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA)/Tax Counseling for the Elderly (TCE) and AARP Tax-Aide sites citywide, as well as online self-preparation at nyc.gov/taxprep. At the sites, returns can be prepared in-person by an IRS certified VITA/TCE volunteer preparer or dropped-off to be completed by the preparer. At the convenient drop-off sites, filers can drop off their tax documents and return later to pick up the completed return or receive it by email. Sites across the city begin to open this week with additional sites opening next week as the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) begins to accept returns on January 23. New Yorkers can call 311 or visit nyc.gov/taxprep and use DCA’s interactive map to search for the most convenient free tax site, and now text “Taxes” to 42033 (message and data rates may apply) to find the nearest location and receive tax season updates and reminders.
This year the City is supporting three new tax preparation provider organizations in an effort to reach communities identified as being in need of freetax preparation services and likely eligible for tax credits. New partners include Chhaya Community Development Corporation, which brings newservices to Jackson Heights and adds Hindi, Urdu, Nepali and Tibetan to the list of available languages; Mosholu Montefiore Community Center, which adds two new sites in the Bronx; and The Bronx NHS, which will serve the North Bronx. There are also new sites in Canarsie, Coney Island and Sheepshead Bay. DCA will also be conducting outreach events throughout the season, including targeted events in communities identified as having EITC-eligible filers who aren’t filing for free or claiming the credit, as well as expanded engagement with faith-based organizations. DCA will also be hosting NYC Free Tax Prep Coffee Days where free coffee will be distributed at locations in several targeted neighborhoods and a team of outreach staff will travel to targeted ZIP codes to encourage people to file for free at their local NYC Free Tax Prep site.
“I applaud the significant expansion of NYC Free Tax Prep—a critical service—to even more New Yorkers this year, said Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs Commissioner Nisha Agarwal. “The expansion of important programs like tax prep into more languages and immigrant-dense communities like Jackson Heights provides important resources on the path to financial stability.”
“EITC is one of the largest poverty reduction programs in the United States. For women, who are more likely to be the head of single-parent households and live in poverty, NYC Free Tax Prep is a vital service that everyone should take advantage of if they are eligible,” said Azadeh Khalili, Executive Director of the Commission on Gender Equity. “Tax credits can reduce the amount of taxes you owe or can get you more money back —especially women and single mothers.”
“Chhaya is proud to partner with DCA in providing free tax preparation services to our immigrant communities, who often fall prey to predatory taxpreparers, expensive refund anticipation loans, and a variety of quick-money scams,” said Annetta Seecharran, Executive Director of Chhaya Community Development Corporation. “Protecting immigrants from such activities, educating them on the tax process, and connecting working families to the tax credits they deserve are essential to building economically stable and thriving communities. We are happy to be conduits of this vital work.”
“We have been providing financial education and counseling to north Bronx residents for over 25 years,” said Oscar Morillo, Executive Director of The Bronx NHS. “This year we are proud to be a part of the NYC Free Tax Prep program to help residents take advantage of tax credits and maximize their tax refund, which could help them to pay for outstanding bills and get out of debt.”
“NYC Free Tax Prep is a wonderful way for MMCC to provide a necessary and valuable service to our Bronx community,” said Rita Santelia, Chief Executive Officer of Mosholu Montefiore Community Center. “This new service will provide our low-income families an efficient and cost-freeway to complete their taxes on time, maximize their refunds, and eliminate high fees that are charged by other tax preparers.”
In addition to expansion of services to new communities, DCA, with the support of Citi Community Development, and in partnership with the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City, is launching two new technology-based programs—a pilot queue management system and an eligibility screening and texting service. The text-based queue management system, which is similar to a restaurant check-in system, will help to reduce wait times at nine of the busiest sites by allowing filers to leave the site and receive a text message when they are able to return and meet with a preparer. The eligibility screening and texting program allows New Yorkers to check their eligibility for NYC Free Tax Prep and for subscribers to locate their nearest tax site and receive tax season tips, reminders, and updates. New Yorkers can text “Taxes” to 42033 (message and data rates may apply) to sign up.
“Food Bank For New York City urges New Yorkers to take advantage of free tax assistance and financial services available across the city,” said Brady Koch, Chief Programs Officer of Food Bank For New York City. “Tax benefits help New Yorkers put food on the table while boosting the local economy to foster growth and job creation. We have been proud providers of free tax assistance services to low- and moderate-income NewYorkers since 2002 and are grateful for our partnership with the Department of Consumer Affairs, which helps to ensure that eligible New Yorkers get the refunds and credits to which they are entitled.”
“Ariva is excited to begin its 14th season of free income tax preparation today,” said Irene Baldwin, Executive Director of Ariva, Inc. in the South Bronx. “In our first year, we prepared a little over 200 hundred returns at our headquarters in the South Bronx; this year, we will serve 11,000 filers at 10 sites around the Bronx, as well as at the Mexican Consulate in Manhattan. In addition, we will be holding free single day tax events at more than 20 locations around the city. For folks who in the past have used a paid tax preparer, we urge you to give us a try this year. You’ll be impressed by the quality of our services and the professionalism of our preparers. And, as always, our services are completely free.”
For the past two years, DCA has been collaborating with service design experts to continuously roll out improvements on tax time services, like the eligibility and texting program and queue management system, in a project called Designing for Financial Empowerment (DFE) – Tax Time initiative. The initiative is a collaboration between DCA, New York City Center for Economic Opportunity, the Parsons Design for Social Innovation and Sustainability Lab, Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City and Food Bank For New York City, and supported by Citi Community Development.
“Citi is proud to support DCA in its work to improve efficiency, quality and inclusivity of free tax services through a new online portal and texting program. Expanding access to more New Yorkers through service and technology innovation will ensure those who are eligible for tax credits can file appropriately,” said Eileen Auld, New York Tri State Market Director, Citi Community Development.
“The Mayor’s Fund is pleased to support key recommendations stemming from the Designing for Financial Empowerment (DFE) – Tax Time initiative, to serve more New Yorkers efficiently through the new queue management system and eligibility screening pilot program. With these newrecommendations in place, DCA will make its free tax prep services easier to access and create a more manageable process for thousands of families. We thank Citi Community Development for their continued support and commitment to this important work,” said Darren Bloch, Executive Director of the Mayor’s Fund to Advance New York City.
These efforts build on the expansion of NYC Free Tax Prep that began in 2015 as part of de Blasio Administration’s commitment to delivering essential services to New Yorkers with low and moderate incomes and helping them improve their financial stability. Since then, the City, with support from Citi Community Development, has invested directly in the partners and expanded its public awareness campaign. Over the past two years since the expansion of the program, more than 310,000 New Yorkers have filed with NYC Free Tax Prep and received roughly half a billion dollars in tax preparation fee savings and refunds.
This year’s advertising campaign expands on last year’s humorous recognition of the anxiety that many people feel when preparing their taxes with two new advertisements to encourage New Yorkers to use the City’s trusted and professional services to file for free and keep every penny of their refund. The new ads remind New Yorkers that getting your full refund can be invested in your family and that there are better ways to spend the money than paying a paid tax preparer. The campaign ads will be running in the city’s subway cars, stations, bus shelters, and telephone kiosks, as well as in print, on radio and online. DCA is also doing a targeted mailing to approximately 300,000 EITC-eligible New Yorkers and, with the help of the City’s tax season partners, distributing approximately 575,000 informational brochures in multiple languages.
NYC Free Tax Prep increases awareness about tax credits that put money back in the pockets of working New Yorkers, and helps qualifying NewYorkers file their taxes online for free. EITC, one of the largest poverty reduction programs in the U.S., is a federal, state and New York City taxcredit for qualifying families, non-custodial parents (NYS EITC only), and singles who work full time or part time or are self-employed. For working families in New York City, federal EITC claims average $2,411 and can be worth as much as as $8,463 when combined with state and City credits. Families with low incomes who are employed or underemployed and have child care costs for children up to age four could also be eligible for up to $2,310 with the NYC CCTC. Combined, these credits can total more than $10,000.
The City’s free tax filing options:
- For most sites, New Yorkers with an annual income of $54,000 or less with children or $30,000 or less without children, can visit one of more than 200freetax sites in the five boroughs. Both in-person and drop-off sites have an IRS certified VITA/TCE volunteer preparer complete the return.
- New Yorkers earning less than $64,000 can file their taxes online for free at nyc.gov/taxprep. The City partners with Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation and MyFreeTaxes, powered by H&R Block and in partnership with United Way Worldwide, to offer these services.
“We encourage eligible filers to utilize IRS certified VITA/TCE volunteer preparers through the NYC Free Tax Prep program to claim all credits that may be available to them, including, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Our community volunteers can help you get the maximum refund you’re due,” said IRS Spokesperson Patricia Russomagno.
“Grow Brooklyn is excited to offer Free Tax Prep services at eight Brooklyn locations and in the Lower East Side,” said Samira Rajan, Executive Director of Grow Brooklyn, Inc. “These services are not only vital because they are free of charge, but also because they allow low- to middle-income individuals and families to take advantage of their full tax refund and earned tax credits. We look forward to partnering with the Department of Consumer Affairs in serving NewYorkers and providing high quality service to our community.”
“Urban Upbound is glad to join Chhaya CDC as they launch this valuable resource in Jackson Heights. I want to applaud the Department of Consumer Affairs and Commissioner Lorelei Salas for recognizing the true value in building a network of providers that are offering free expert taxpreparation all across the City. This is a critical resource for low-income New Yorkers,” said Urban Upbound CEO Bishop Mitchell Taylor.
“NYC Free Tax Prep offers a free and easy way for eligible New Yorkers to make sure they take advantage of all the tax-saving benefits available to them, including the Earned Income Tax Credit,” said Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. “By using NYC Free Tax Prep to minimize theirtax burdens and maximize their refunds, New Yorkers will be able to use more of their hard earned money to support their families and save for the future. Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Consumer Affairs, led by Commissioner Lorelei Salas, deserve to be commended for offering this important money-saving service.”
“At a time when many families are struggling to get on firmer financial footing, I’m thrilled to see the NYC Free Tax Prep program expand its services and focus on making those even more accessible,” said U.S. Representative Joe Crowley. “I thank the Department of Consumer Affairs for working with partner organizations, like Chhaya CDC, to reach diverse communities like Jackson Heights and make sure free, reliable assistance is available for every working New Yorker to take advantage of.”
“With tax season upon us, it is crucial that New Yorkers are aware of their rights and have access to vital information on all available resources to avoid scams and help them through the complex tax process. NYC Free Tax Prep will help working and middle class New Yorkers, who depend on their tax returns, to make major purchases, debt payments, or put food on the table in this ever more expensive city. I urge New Yorkers who earn $64,000 or less to take advantage of NYC Free Tax Prep services at one of the 200 available sites throughout the city or online,” said Council Member Rafael Espinal, Chair of City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs.
“All qualifying New Yorkers should take advantage of the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs’ Free Tax Prep services,” said Council Member Daniel Dromm. “For many people, annual tax preparation is a costly and complicated process. I am pleased to support DCA’s campaign which effectively removes these barriers.”
“Providing free tax preparation to hard-working New Yorkers translates into family and individual savings that can go a long way towards buying essential needs for the house or paying bills,” said State Senator Jose Peralta. “Now in its 15th annual tax credit campaign, this program has successfully filed thousands of returns for free. I want to thank Commissioner Salas and all the organizations, including Chhaya, which is in my district, for all of the efforts put into place to make this free tax filing possible.”
“For hard-working families living paycheck to paycheck, the money saved by not having to hire a tax preparer means the difference between paying a bill or having one overdue. Tax payers feeling pressured to self-file so as to save on those costs may miss out on claims they, both deserve, and could desperately use. As an elected official representing the most diverse district in the United States, I commend NYC Free Tax Prep for providingfree tax filing services and making those services available in multiple languages. With these tools, all of New York City’s families living on a tight budget will see the tax season bring relief, not added stress,” said Assembly Member Francisco P. Moya.
Last month, DCA issued a Consumer Alert to New Yorkers that due to a new federal law, the PATH Act, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) is required to hold refunds until February 15, 2017 for filers who claim EITC or the Additional Children Tax Credit (ACTC). As a result, paid preparers are marketing “express refund advances” or “refund transfers” that result in a smaller refund, or unforeseen fees or interest. Consumers using a paid preparer should ask the preparer for a Consumers’ Bill of Rights Regarding Tax Preparers (also available in Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Haitian Creole, Korean, Russian and Spanish) and read it thoroughly before having their taxes prepared, and also get DCA’s Tips Regarding Tax Preparers.
For more information about NYC Free Tax Prep, visit nyc.gov/taxprep or call 311. You can also text “Taxes” to 42033 (message and data rates may apply) to find the nearest location and receive tax season updates and reminders and join the #FreeTaxPrep conversation on @NYCDCA’s social media channels and watch the NYC Free Tax Prep video (Spanish) on YouTube.
The NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) protects and enhances the daily economic lives of New Yorkers to create thriving communities. DCA licenses more than 81,000 businesses in more than 50 industries and enforces key consumer protection, licensing, and workplace laws that apply to countless more. By supporting businesses through equitable enforcement and access to resources and, by helping to resolve complaints, DCA protects the marketplace from predatory practices and strives to create a culture of compliance. Through its community outreach and the work of its offices of Financial Empowerment and Labor Policy & Standards, DCA empowers consumers and working families by providing the tools and resources they need to be educated consumers and to achieve financial health and work-life balance. DCA also conducts research and advocates for public policy that furthers its work to support New York City’s communities. For more information about DCA and its work, call 311 or visit DCA atnyc.gov/dca or on its social media sites, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.