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Want a check? You need to file a tax return
Seniors get help with forms to earn economic stimulus
The Riverside Water Treatment Plant’s wall of 24-hour charts or gauges keeps track of the water being pumped from various sites around the city. - photo by Scott Rogers | The Times

Reuben Ivey, 63, sat patiently among 18 others Saturday in Gainesville's Senior Life Center, waiting to get help with paperwork to file an income tax return.

It was the first time in 12 years that Ivey had filed a return. This year, he's only required to fill out the paperwork so he can be one of millions of Americans to receive an economic stimulus check.

"I thought I was done with this," Ivey said of the tax filing, "Until this came up. They said ‘You've got to come by and file.' Gotta obey the rules and regulations."

The requirement that all recipients of the stimulus check complete at least a form 1040A has meant free tax assistance services like the one held Saturday by the local branch of the AARP are being inundated with new applicants, most of them elderly or low-income.

The number of federal forms filed with the help of Hall County's eight AARP volunteers has nearly doubled from this time last year, said Tom Fox, a Murrayville retiree who heads up the local program.

"We've been busy every day since we started," said Fox, who on Saturday, like previous days at the senior center, had to turn away applicants after the first 45. "We can't do them all in the time we have."

Fox's volunteers started offering the help in February, at three Hall County library branches and once each week at the senior center. By the end of March, they had completed 925 state forms and 798 federal returns, compared with 730 state forms and 406 forms at the end of March 2007.

Statewide, "the number has grown tremendously," said Mark Green, a spokesman for the Internal Revenue Service's Atlanta office.

At the beginning of the year, prior to the approval of the stimulus package, the office expected about 4 million returns to be filed in Georgia, Green said. More than 3 million returns already have been filed, he said.

"The 4 million mark is a number that will be shattered," Green said. "That's a good thing. It's good that we're reaching out to those individuals who may have been out of the tax system for some time. In some cases, they're not aware of what's going on in the tax arena."

Fox said many seniors he's helped were unaware that they could receive a $52 tax credit on the Georgia tax form, or $104 for married couples.

Phillippa Moss, director of the Gainesville-Hall County Community Life Center, said the Senior Life Center she oversees makes regular announcements to its patrons about the money available to seniors through the economic stimulus package.

"There were a lot of people who were very surprised when we shared the information," Moss said. "We received a lot of calls from older citizens who heard rumors of the stimulus package and wanted to know more."

Fox is worried that the AARP program, which ends April 15, won't operate long enough to serve all the seniors in the area who need help filing the 1040A. They have until the end of the year to file.

"We encourage churches and civic groups to help," he said.

Green said the IRS can provide free assistance for low-income seniors at its Gainesville office on Oak Street.

Moss said the checks, which will generally be $300 for low-income seniors, "is a huge deal for many older adults who have a limited monthly income. It can make a big quality of life difference for them."

"We caution people who have a limited incomes, this is a good opportunity to put some money away for a rainy day," Moss said.

Ivey, who learned about the stimulus package and the filing requirements from his brother, walked the short distance to the senior center Saturday from his home on College Avenue. He said he's looking forward to getting his check.

"I hope everyone gets it," he said. "They need it; they've worked all their life and they deserve it."

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