The deadline to file your taxes is less than a month away, but it’s not too late to get some help. Programs across the state are busy assisting seniors and people with low income. HPR's Moly Solomon paid a visit to one and has this report.
It’s a busy morning at the Lanakila Multi-Purpose Senior Center in Kalihi. The hallway is full by 9 a.m. as people start to line up for the free tax service. Iris Hiromoto is a membership specialist at Lanakila, a program of Catholic Charities Hawaii, which has provided free tax help for the past 22 years. "We service about 40-45 people a day on Mondays," said Hiromoto. "And as it gets closer to April 15th, we get frantic calls saying, 'I still haven't gotten my taxes done, can you take us in?'"
And Hiromoto says they still can, and will be open until this year’s federal tax deadline on April 18th. The senior center is one of 36 AARP Foundation Tax-Aide sites in the state, all run by volunteers. One of them is Leonard Chow. He’s been helping seniors and people with low income at the Kalihi site for more than a decade. "They are usually very appreciative," said Chow. "When they can come and save themselves a few hundred dollars that's a big help. Even on a simple return, most of them would not attempt to do it themselves."
That’s the case for Rosaline Yanagawa. She and her husband are both retired, and can’t afford to hire a tax professional. "For me, I wouldn't know how to do it," said Yanagawa. "So I come here and they just go through it on the computer. Especially when you're a senior, you don't pay much attention to that. But coming here, it really helps."
"I've been having my taxes done here for three years," said Lani Amarino, who heard about the tax program from a friends at the senior center. "It's quick, it's easy, and the people are very nice." And more importantly for Amarino, it’s also free. "That helps me a lot," said Amarino. "Because I am on the low end of social security, very low."
Amarino wouldn’t tell me how much she’s getting back, but she says it’s just enough to help her get by. That’s something Bruce Borttoff hears a lot. He’s the director of communications for AARP Hawai‘i. "In some cases, $100 a year can make a difference in terms of what they were able to put on the table from a food perspective, their ability to pay utilities, their ability to cover their transportation and mortgage or rental costs," said Borttoff. "A little bit of money can really go a long way for folks."
Last year, AARP Hawai‘i’s tax sites filed 15,000 federal and state returns and returned more than $8.5 million in refunds. Click here for a list of free tax sites near you.