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Regional Archives — The Altamont Enterprise, October 9, 2008

Deadline approaches
Seniors seek stimulus checks

By Jo E. Prout

The deadline to receive an economic stimulus payment from the Internal Revenue Service is next week, and the IRS is encouraging retirees and veterans to apply for theirs.

For seniors who applied but are still waiting to receive theirs, now is the time to make sure the applications were filed correctly.

“In Albany County, there are 4,496 [seniors] that we think are still eligible to file for this,” said IRS spokeswoman Dianne Besunder. “We did a match up with Social Security and the Veterans’ Administration.”

Many seniors and veterans are usually told not to file tax returns, which are required for citizens to receive the economic stimulus checks. Many of them do not have enough taxable income to file a tax return, Besunder said. After coordinating with the two organizations, the IRS mailed many seniors and veterans simple 1040A tax forms for 2007, she said.

“Don’t let the economic stimulus payment pass you by,” Besunder said. “If you want the payment this year, you should file by October 15. We recognize that there may be older Americans and disabled veterans who still have not filed for their stimulus payment. If you know of a friend, neighbor, or family member who may be in that situation, please give them a hand if they need it.”

In Guilderland, Cindy Wadach, director of Senior Services, said, “When we first heard about the stimulus checks, we publicized it.” Any Guilderland seniors who have called with problems, she said, have been referred to Carol Williams.

“She trains volunteers to help people with their taxes as part of the AARP Tax Aid Program,” said Wadach.

In New Scotland, town senior liaison Susan Kidder has been helping retirees file for stimulus payments since early this year. Several seniors, she said, did not yet receive them.

“A lot of seniors don’t get anything but Social Security, and they didn’t get anything,” Kidder said. She helped one retiree with a low income file hers, and correct the application when the expected payment did not arrive.

“This gal just survives,” Kidder said. “This $300 is like a million.”

Deputy Town Clerk Carol Cootware had similar difficulties helping her mother file.

“The first one we did wasn’t right,” she said. Cootware first filed for her mother in April. In July, she said, she went online to www.irs.gov, the only official IRS website, and realized that income had been reported on the wrong line. Even with the corrected form, her mother has not received her payment, Cootware said.

“We’re not aware of any particular problems with these,” Besunder said. “We’re certainly encouraging people to go ahead and meet that deadline.”

If people were asked by the IRS to file again, or if they were doing an amended return, the payment could take 12 to 16 weeks to arrive, she said. “We are absolutely not aware of any problems with these,” Besunder said.

Besunder said that those who applied but have not received a letter or a check from the IRS can call the IRS Stimulus Payment Hotline at 1-866-234-2942. Using this automated phone line, callers will have to navigate a phone tree and press the right button to find the correct person to help with their problem.

A faster way could be to go online to www.irs.gov and click on the right-hand-side button “Where’s My Refund,” Besunder said. Under this button, users can find a new button for the stimulus payment. On this screen, people can enter: their Social Security number; their filing status, whether married, single, or otherwise; and the number of exemptions they claimed on their 2007 tax return.

“That’s a really cool way to check it out,” Besunder said.

Some people are not eligible for stimulus payments, she said. Those who make less than $3,000 or more than $75,000 in taxable income, those without a social security number, and those who did not file a 2007 tax return cannot receive a stimulus check, she said. Seniors are also not eligible for a payment if they can be claimed as an exemption on someone else’s tax return, she said.

If seniors meet these requirements, they should use the online buttons or the refund hotline to answer their questions about why they might not have received their checks, she said.

“If all of that fails, and they’re not able [through the] usual channels, they could check the taxpayer advocate service at 1-877-777-4778,” Besunder said. Callers will be asked to leave their name and contact information and they will receive a call within 24 hours, she said.

Kidder, who helped several seniors file, said that the paperwork and online searching is too much for some seniors to handle.

“They haven’t got the ability to go line by line,” she said. “It’s just overwhelming. Someone in their late 60s, 70s, or 80s — they don’t go online.”

One senior told Kidder that draws on and transfers between her Individual Retirement Accounts appeared to give her a $119,000 income, but that she really makes much less than $75,000 per year.

“She’s 84 years old. She said, ‘I’m living on nothing.’ She doesn’t qualify for the stimulus check. According to the government, she makes too much money,” Kidder said. “She said, ‘My husband did all this stuff. He died 20 years ago.’ She had all she could do to walk in here.”

“The IRS didn’t make it clear,” Cootware said. “My mom doesn’t file every year. I don’t think it was clear enough for the seniors.”

“Nobody that age could ever do this. The IRS doesn’t notify them, they just don’t get a check,” Kidder said. “It’s the poorest of the poor that don’t have a computer or even have help.”

Besunder said that those who have not yet filed can do so online with the free file system, or they can mail in simple 1040A forms.

She cautioned against filing again, for those who have already filed once. Sometimes during the regular tax season, she said, people accidentally file twice, and this can delay their returns. She said that the same delay could be found for the stimulus checks.

“We do find that people will wait for the deadlines, but we are hoping…that the people…will use the week before Oct. 15 to file,” Besunder said. The IRS plans to get the stimulus payments to people before the end of the year, she said.

“At least now, I have avenues to help people,” Kidder said. She said that seniors can “come over here and I’ll see if I can help them.”

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