BY TRISHA SAKHUJA
On Jan. 31, elected officials, community partners and residents from western Queens joined a non-profit to recognize Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness Day and encourage New Yorkers to use free tax prep sites to file their taxes.
Last year, Urban Upbound, a community development corporation in Long Island City that works to provide public housing residents with the tools and resources for economic mobility and reliance, provided free tax prep services to 2,825 individuals who collectively received $3.4 million in refunds. This year, the organization hopes to serve 4,000 New Yorkers.
Bishop Mitchell Taylor, CEO and founder of Urban Upbound, said over the 10 years that they have provided free tax returns, they have collected $9 million through EITC returns.
Taylor said families living in public housing are often forced to pay high fees or are scammed into rapid refund services that can wind up costing them hundreds of dollars.
“Urban Upbound is about changing public housing communities, not from the outside in, but from the inside out and organizing all of your social networks,” he said.
Along with providing free tax counseling services, Taylor said Urban Upbound offers a comprehensive, integrated slate of services that includes employment assistance, one-on-one financial counseling, a college access program for youth and community revitalization.
“We are trying to educate the consumer because the educated consumer is the best consumer,” he said. “You don’t have to fall for the rapid refund rip-off, come get your taxes done at Urban Upbound for free.”
He said they are not only concerned about helping people avoid the rapid refund rip-off, but it also gives their counselors an opportunity to understand a family’s financial situation to further help individuals who may be unemployed or applying to college.
“It’s really a part of a larger goal to help people living in urban tracks, who live 100, 200, 300 percent below the poverty line,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s advice for those who receive a tax refund is to put it in the bank for at least seven days.
“One thing you do not want to do is go out and spend it spontaneously,” he added.
Majority Leader of the City Council Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said every year Urban Upbound helps public housing residents and low income New Yorkers get back millions of dollars on their tax returns.
“By keeping the community at the heart of its services, Urban Upbound empowers those they assist through quality programming that improves the fabric of the neighborhood,” he said.
Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) said too many families on fixed incomes have too few resources when preparing their taxes.
“Urban Upbound has been a beacon for our community providing many financial services that cover all aspects of financial health including much needed tax preparation,” he said.
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Astoria) said Urban Upbound offers a great program that helps hard-working lower income people recoup some of their hard-earned money through their tax system.
“Bishop Taylor’s Urban Upbound program will help residents of Western Queens file their EITC claims – it’s a fast, easy way for people to claim the money they’re entitled to receive from the federal government,” she said.
Reach Trisha Sakhuja at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, firstname.lastname@example.org, or @Tsakhuja13.