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Many in Hub need to claim stimulus checks

8/28/2008, 7:40 a.m.

The IRS, CBPP, mayor’s office and others are working to spread the message: If you haven’t yet filed, it’s not too late.

While many might think of spring as tax season, the deadline for filing a 2007 tax return — and making oneself eligible to claim the stimulus payment — actually extends until Oct. 15.

With the cost of energy, food and other expenses on the rise, claiming the stimulus payments is critical as ever, said ABCD President and CEO Robert Coard.

“The federal government is hoping that people can take advantage of the stimulus program, so that we can get the economy back on [track],” he said.

Most people who have not claimed their economic stimulus payments either have not realized they are qualified for the payments, or are concerned that the process may be intricate, according to Vernette Allen, an asset development manager at ABCD.

On the contrary, Allen emphasized, filing is easy and help is available.

“It takes 5 to 10 minutes … it’s not complicated at all,” she said. “Take advantage of it. There are a number of resources to help you if you don’t want to do it on your own.”

Elizabeth Salazar helped McCrory file his tax return at the Elm Hill center. She said that there are more than 2,000 seniors who have not filed taxes in Roxbury, adding that about 100 seniors have filed their tax since April 15 through the center and typically receive their payments in two to three weeks.

Meanwhile, some residents who have filed tax returns have faced difficulties in obtaining their payments, Salazar said.

“We have received some phone calls from the elderly who filed but haven’t received anything,” she said.

She said there have been a number of delays in payments.

“We need to push IRS to accelerate the process,” she added. “When [people] call IRS, there’s no live person answering the calls.”

The prospect of a trying ordeal can steer some eligible people away from filing.

“Sometimes, people don’t want to file their taxes because they hear stories from their peers that it’s a hoax, because the money is not coming,” said Lemuel “Lem” Mills, director of the Elm Hill center.

Ada Stallings knows all about that.

Stallings, a 71-year-old Roxbury resident, filed her tax return in February but had not received her $300 payment. She said she called the IRS service center 10 times over the last five months, but could not reach “a live person.” Instead, she received an automated voice telling her, “You are not eligible.”

Before completely giving up her plan to get her payment, and the new kitchen tiles she planned to buy with it, Stallings visited the Elm Hill center. In talking to Salazar, Stallings found out that to be entitled to the payment, she was supposed to include her social security income, which she did not include in her Form 1040 because it is not taxable.

Stallings said the IRS notice letter regarding the economic stimulus payments was unclear.

“This is the information,” she said, pulling the letter out of a manila folder filled with her tax-related documents. “I don’t think that was made clear to anyone. … Most people thought if they just got Social Security, they would be automatically eligible.”

She did file again, with Salazar’s help. She is still waiting for her check.

Mills, the Elm Hill center’s director, said its services are not limited to seniors and that ABCD has been trying to reach out to eligible people who may not have sought their stimulus payments due to language barriers, disabilities or other reasons.

“We are working with transportation services and translators,” he said. “I hope to reach out [to] all the people in need.”

For more information on filing 2007 tax returns and eligibility for economic stimulus payments, or to find a local operating site that can offer assistance, visit www.bostontaxhelp.org or call the Boston Earned Income Tax Credit Coalition at 617-918-5259.