Paper tax filing fee could hit poor, elderly hardest

01/20/2010 12:00 AM

01/20/2010 6:02 AM

Jack and Patricia Stanley have been filing their tax returns on paper since they were married 58 years ago. Now the state revenue department wants to make them pay to do that. "It's just another thing that they're shoving down your throat," said Jack Stanley, a 76-year-old retired salesman.

To encourage people to file taxes electronically, the department wants to charge you $25 to file a paper income tax return.

It also wants you to pay $10 to get your refund in the form of a paper check. Secretary of Revenue Joan Wagnon has told lawmakers that the fees would help offset the costs of people manually processing paper returns.

The department also has warned residents that it could take twice as long as in the past to process paper returns, nearly four months.

None of that is good news to those who would be hurt most by the fees, primarily the elderly and people with low incomes who don't have computers, said tax preparers.

If lawmakers approve the request, the Stanleys said, they'd just have to go to their daughter or son or somebody else who is online.

"As far as getting on a computer, I never did, and I'm not interested in it," Jack Stanley said.

Negative reactions

Sen. Les Donovan, R-Wichita, who leads the Senate's Assessment and Taxation Committee, said his committee will hold a hearing on the issue either next week or the week after.

Reaction to the request is heavily negative, he said Tuesday. He read a note from one constituent who has faithfully paid taxes for more than 60 years but doesn't own a computer and doesn't want to be forced to hire someone to file on her behalf.

"I think there's going to be a lot of feedback from the public on this issue," Donovan said.

He said he understands the revenue department's needs, but by making a request that puts a burden on the elderly, "you're going to stir up a hornet's nest."

"The fact they're not going to get their taxes back as soon if they file paper returns should be enough penalty," Donovan said.

Rep. Melody McCray-Miller, D-Wichita, a member of the House taxation committee, also has heard complaints. She said it will hurt people with low incomes as well as elderly tax filers who don't have computers or aren't able to get to centers that provide free tax-preparation services.

When the bill comes up in her committee, "it will be ripe for amendments and waivers," she said. "I would think there would have to be a way we would not impose this on seniors that are not able to file electronically."

Elderly, poor affected

Some of those who work with poor and elderly people on their taxes are angry.

"It's just another way to make the poor poorer." said Victor Brown, coordinator of the voluntary income tax assistance (VITA) site at St. Anne Parish, 2801 S. Seneca.

VITA sites prepare returns largely for elderly and low-income taxpayers.

"The people that come to us are for the most part individuals who don't have computers or don't have the savvy to operate a computer if they have one or who couldn't afford one if they wanted one," Brown said.

"I realize the state of Kansas is in financial straits. However I think there's a better way to raise revenue rather than place it on the backs of the lower income and the elderly," he said.

The revenue department's plan to impose a fee for sending out paper checks hurts those who don't have a bank account, said Agnes DeVasure, VITA site coordinator for Dear Neighbors Ministries, 1329 Bluffview.

The proposed fees might seem insignificant to most people, she said. "But then, we have bank accounts."

"A lot of our clients we do taxes for are just wanting to get that money back so they have money to spend," DeVasure said.

People on Social Security or disability income get about $674 a month to live on. Most get about $84 per person for a food sales tax refund and $200 to $300 on homestead tax refunds.

"If they have to pay to get their taxes done and some of this other stuff, they don't have money to live on," DaVasure said.

Ryan Deitchler, a certified credit counselor for Consumer Credit Counseling Service, 300 W. Douglas, who also does voluntary tax assistance, said retired people and people on disability currently file their homestead and food sales tax returns on paper forms that are easy and quick to fill out.

"They don't want to have to go somewhere to e-file. They want to do it on paper," he said.

Pat Cameron is director of the Kansas Benefit Bank, a program at Inter-Faith Ministries, 829 N. Market, which offers a number of services, including voluntary tax assistance. "Already the paper forms are not available easily, and that has an impact on people who don't have computers, can't afford computers or aren't computer literate"

"The people who can afford it can go to H&R Block or do their own taxes. But there are many people who won't have the means to do that," Cameron said.

"It just seems like one more burden that people who are already burdened enough will have to take on."

That may cause some to simply stop filing returns, believing theirs are so small that authorities from the state and the IRS won't pursue them.

"If you want to collect money, make it easy on me," said Prem Bajaj, 77, a retired math professor at Wichita State University who files his own returns and used to help elderly people file theirs.

"If the state makes it difficult, the state is going to lose money."

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