Thousands didn't get stimulus checks; they didn't file returns

Saturday, August 30, 2008 | 9:11 p.m. CDT

KANSAS CITY - Paula Willett is looking over the September calendar like a general, trying to figure when and how best to strike.

Her target: more than 24,000 people in the five counties making up metropolitan Kansas City who the Internal Revenue Service says haven't filed the necessary tax return to get the federal economic stimulus rebate most Americans received earlier this summer. The deadline to file for the payment is Oct. 15.

Throughout Missouri, the IRS says 113,147 people eligible for the stimulus checks had yet to file for them as of June, the latest date for which figures are available. In Kansas, the number is 40,021.

"I guess I'm surprised there are still so many people out there who haven't done it," said Willett, a banker who's also a board member of KC CASH, a volunteer organization that provides economic education and free services to the poor and elderly in Kansas City.

In both states, the majority of those lagging behind are over the age of 65, leaving much of the burden for notifying them with organizations that cater to that population.

Willett said her group plans to hold a "tax day" on Sept. 30 to help people fill out necessary forms, but she's not sure where to hold it or, more importantly, how to let people know about it.

"Who wouldn't want $300 to $600 back?" she said. "It's hard to reach out, because unless they're affiliated with a senior center or some other group it's hard to get the word out to them."

LaRae Santiago, independent living services manager for the Wichita Disability Initiative, said her group and the United Way of the Plains have held some events already this spring and summer, signing up a few hundred of the 6,600 people in Sedgwick County who haven't filed for their checks.

She said the local AARP is also holding events at area senior centers and several groups will hold a Senior Health Expo next month, trying to inform people about their eligibility ahead of the October deadline.

"They may think it's too late, but it's not too late," Santiago said.

Community organizers said it appears most people are aware of the rebates but either don't know they are eligible or are unsure how to get one.

Congress authorized payments of $300 per person for those whose sole income was from Social Security or disability benefits.

Only individuals who filed 2007 tax forms with the IRS received a stimulus check. While most people whose sole income is from Social Security or disability benefits typically don't file tax returns, they need to file to get their $300.

"I think that's a lot of the confusion," said Colleen Parker, community planning associate with the United Way of the Plains. "They didn't know there's one simple form."

Volunteer groups aren't the only ones looking to connect people with stimulus checks.

H&R Block Inc., the nation's largest tax preparer, has drilled down into the IRS data and is able to tell how many eligible recipients in a given city or even ZIP code haven't filed for their rebate.

The Kansas City-based company is using that information to hold presentations at senior centers and other places with large numbers of potential filers, either directing them to local retail offices or providing tax preparers if the people are unable to travel, said Amy McAnarney, executive director of the H&R Block Tax Institute.

"Our goal is to make sure that individuals get their money in their hands as fast as they can and make sure that they know that they are eligible to receive that money," she said.

Unlike volunteer groups, however, the company charges a fee for its services, starting at $35, McAnarney said, adding that preparers also look for state tax credits and other potential benefits for which the person may be eligible.

"It can be challenging to fill out the tax return form and make sure they get all of the money they're required," she said.



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