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Low-income people, including senior citizens and disabled veterans who do not usually file federal t
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Low-income people, including senior citizens and disabled veterans who do not usually file federal tax returns, may still qualify to receive federal money this year under the government’s economic stimulus program.

There’s just one requirement: They must file a federal tax return to receive the stimulus rebate.

Officials with the Internal Revenue Service joined other state leaders Thursday at the Stratton VA Medical Center to urge this vulnerable segment of the population to file an income tax form.

“People must file a federal tax return in order to get the rebate, and we want everyone to know there are free tax preparation services available to help them prepare returns and make sure they get every single dollar they are entitled to,” said David Hansell, commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

The $168 billion economic stimulus package, approved by Congress and signed by President Bush, includes rebates of $600 for most taxpayers. The hope is that taxpayers will spend the money to boost the economy and ward off a recession.

For those who normally do not have to file a tax return — and this includes low-income seniors and disabled veterans — the law still provides for payments.

To get the payment, a filer must have at least $3,000 of qualifying income for 2007 which can include Social Security benefits and veterans payments.

Rebates will average anywhere from $300 to $600 per individual in this segment of the population.

“This money will help address real personal needs, prescriptions, food, clothing, shelter and other necessities,” said Hansell.

More than 200,000 New Yorkers on fixed incomes qualify, according to Hansell, and it will mean millions of dollars in federal revenue will be pumped into the state.

Because the IRS is concerned that low-income New Yorkers who could qualify for the benefit are out of the habit of filing tax returns, the public outreach campaign began, said Tom Kane, a senior tax specialist with the IRS.

Volunteers with the IRS will be available on March 29 at Stratton VA to help veterans and low-income seniors fill out the proper forms at no charge. “We will help you and show you how to do it,” said Kane.

He said it would take about 10 minutes from start to finish.

The state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance sponsors Volunteer Tax Assistance sites throughout the state. A list is posted under programs and services at www.otda.state.ny.us

The United Way and AARP also offer free services.

Albany County Executive Michael Breslin said Thursday that the economic stimulus package is huge, but he also said he’s concerned about people who live by themselves or in remote areas who haven’t been informed about the filing requirements and could lose out on money they could use.

“There is free assistance, but I worry there will be people coming out of woodwork [to] try to help people for a cut of the payment. We want to make sure that doesn’t happen,” Breslin said.

“This is stimulus for our economy and needed money for people who desperately need it,” he said.

Michael Burgess, director of the state Office for the Aging, said many older people say the cost of heating is driving them crazy and the cost of food is increasing. “This is a great opportunity for people to have a little redress from those high costs,” he said.

“We want to emphasize to older people who may not file a tax form, they need to do it this year to get the benefit,” said Burgess.

People can file the form on their own, but Burgess urged family caregivers to help and he encouraged people to spend the rebate within two months of getting it, lest it become an asset in terms of benefit program qualifications.

The rebate payments are not subject to New York or federal income tax, according to the state Department of Taxation and Finance.

Mindy Bockstein, executive director of the state Consumer Protection Board, also warned consumers Thursday to beware of scams connected to the rebates.

Albert Einstein once said the hardest thing in the world to understand is the income tax, she noted.

Bockstein said anyone who uses a tax preparation firm to fill out the income tax forms should make sure the company is legitimate. Scam artists often request banking and financial information and some even say they will deposit the economic stimulus rebate for the consumer.

“Don’t fall for these offers. They are most often scams. Use common sense. If an offer seems too good to be true it usually is,” said Bockstein.

Categories: Schenectady County

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