When 'a little thing turns into a big thing,' center offers free tax assistance - The Explorer: Business

When 'a little thing turns into a big thing,' center offers free tax assistance

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Posted: Wednesday, December 8, 2010 12:00 am | Updated: 8:10 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

A spouse dies, and he or she did the taxes.

A job is lost, and someone dips into 401(k) savings, triggering a tax consequence.

Someone has let their income tax filings slip a year, or two … or more.

“Certain things in life happen that you’re not prepared for,” said Liz Thomey, program director for Pio Decimo Center, an agency of Catholic Community Services. “A little thing turns into a big thing. People don’t really know what to do.”

Pio Decimo Center provides free services for low-income people who need help with their income taxes. It can help people file prior-year returns, communicate with the Internal Revenue Service, set up payment plans and proceed “up to litigating in tax court on your behalf,” Thomey said. Attorney Sam Reiter, with long tax-related experience, is on staff. Education about tax rights and responsibilities is given as well.

“It’s a service to people who probably don’t have the means themselves to hire an attorney, or to help them with tax problems,” Thomey said.

Free tax services are available for people who make up to 250 percent of the federal poverty level, $50,000 for a family of four. “Most people qualify,” Thomey said. Even those who earn more than the cap can be directed to a pro bono attorney or a taxpayer advocate, she noted. “They can still call us.”

Often, people perceive the IRS is “on one side of the fence,” Thomey said. Yet the federal agency “wants somebody to be represented properly, a non-biased party to make sure needs are being taken care of.”

“We have to recognize that taxpayers have rights, and that there is equity within the system for all,” said Bill Brunson, who handles IRS media relations in Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. “We try to have a balanced system.”

In fact, the IRS provides a $68,000 annual grant to Pio Decimo Center, which covers part of the program expense. Pio Decimo Center has a small staff at its Seventh Avenue address in Tucson, with part-time help in Cochise County.

“Most of our clients are not trying to fight an IRS decision,” Thomey said. Rather, they want to establish a payment plan, or come into compliance without further penalty. “We’re like an intermediary, helping to work with the IRS instead of against the IRS,” Thomey said.

About 850 people a year have received services, Thomey said.

In these times, “the need is greater,” Thomey said. “We are always finding people with eight, nine, 10 years of tax returns to do. A lot of times, it’s life issues.”

When issues are resolved, often “there’s a sense of relief involved with just having it done, and knowing you’ve taken all the steps you can take,” Thomey said.

About Pio Decimo Center

Pio Decimo Center is an agency of Catholic Community Services.

It is located at 848 S. Seventh, Tucson, 85701-2698.

Office hours are 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday-Friday. Walk-ins are accepted, but appointments are preferred.

To reach Liz Thomey, call 622-2801, extension 122; fax 622-4704, or e-mail Liz at ethomey@piodecimocenter.org

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