Cartoon by Chuck Henderson
San Francisco Chamber of Commerce SF Works Director Terri Feeley with Mayor Gavin Newsom, center background, and Treasurer Jose Cisneros
Photos by John Han
By Pat Murphy
The crippling sense of being watched, even targeted, weighs heavily on struggling San Franciscans each passing year they don’t file tax returns.
The burden is needless, City and community leaders said Wednesday.
ACORN Organizer Laura Godinez
Indeed, residents earning $39,000 or less during each of the last three years may claim total refunds of $10,000 available through overlapping IRS and City Working Families Tax Credit regulations, reported Terri Feeley, Director of SF Works for the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce.
Feeley was among those convened by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom at a Mission District City one-stop center for working and low-income residents.
Mayor Gavin Newsom
The center, located at 3120 Mission Street and Cesar Chavez Street, houses 13 agencies geared to helping San Franciscans unaware of benefits eligibility and signing them up on-the-spot.
In addition to local tax refund of $100 paid through City general fund monies, the center can couple that claim to IRS refund of up to $3,500 for each of the past three years.
Data cross referencing by the City announced yesterday pools additional benefit availability such as food stamps, health insurance; local, state and federal benefit programs.
“There is a great potential for targeted outreach to working families,” Newsom stated.
“By linking families to other programs… we also draw state and federal dollars into San Francisco.”
San Francisco Treasurer Jose Cisneros oversees the local tax credit program.
Treasurer Jose Cisneros
“This program really works,” stated Cisneros.
“The amount of eligible families who qualify for the Working Families Credit has exceeded our goals, and now we want to make sure these San Francisco families are claiming everything they are entitled to — not just in San Francisco, but at the state and federal level also.”
Those eligible are estimated at 50,000 in San Francisco, most unaware of their eligibility, Feeley pointed out.
Only 11,000 San Franciscans applied for the tax credit over the last three years when the City program first began.
Some $2.3 million was paid by the City and the average IRS refund for the past two years is $2,200, added Feeley.
She repored that 1,600 families applied, most of whom are Asian with African American and Latino San Franciscans growing in applicant numbers.
Two thirds of applicants reported high school or less education and had income of $25,000 to $10,000 annually.
Most had saving accounts of less than $500 and debt greater than $500. Even though they work they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck.
Public and private sector program participants have mailed Working Families tax credit information to commercial tax preparers, community organizations and financial institutions.
Additional center service includes Muni Fast Pass discounts, state discounted car insurance, and discounted PG&E and AT&T connection.
Focus group surveys found the reason for low tax credit claim stems from lack of awareness.
The City and local banks additionally focus on helping low-income workers retain what money they have left each month.
“The only way out of poverty is asset development,” the mayor projected.
Earlier this year, public and private sectors partnered to ease the way into savings institutions under banner of Bank on San Francisco.
Participants launch Bank on San Francisco
As community awareness of the program expands, the organization ACORN plays a leading role.
ACORN organizer Laura Godinez
“I encourage you to reach out to these community organizations who really our frontline,” Newsom stressed. He added that the City’s proposed free WiFi internet connection opens the door to “streaming information into San Francisco neighborhoods tailored to each neighborhood needs.”
More than 9,000 residents have applied for Working Families Tax Credit this year, detailed Tony Lugo, who spearheads City work force and economic development efforts.
“Centers like this provide the perfect enviornment for one-stop service to those who need help the most,” Luga said.
“Who knows? Clients may end up getting a job at H&R Block! “