Neighborhood Centers Inc. has offered free tax preparation for low-income people for the last five years. But with the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, now in effect, some tax return filers will face additional challenges. In particular, those who have to sign up for the new healthcare exchange need to have their most current tax return at hand.
Elizabeth Ferrer is with Neighborhood Tax Centers.
“What we are doing is talking to people about where they can go to receive the help that they need on a daily basis at all our tax centers to enroll. Our connection to this is that they need to have an accurate tax return to enroll because their income information needs to be correct. Otherwise, at the end of the year they may face some more penalties.”
Another tax-related issue associated with the Affordable Care Act is the penalty that those who choose not to sign up for a plan will have to pay.
“If you don’t enroll for health insurance by March 31 of 2014, you will face a penalty on your tax return in 2015. And so there’s a lot of confusion about when those penalties are going to happen and how they’re going to appear on the tax return.”
And then there are also tax credits many people are eligible for through the healthcare exchange. Ferrer says her organization helps those eligible to take best advantage of what they’re entitled to.
“We’re here to help people keep all of their hard-earned money. And your refund that you receive is all the money that you’ve been paying throughout the year.”
Neighborhood Centers will refer health insurance seekers to some of the City of Houston’s multi-service centers and their healthcare navigators. In addition, some of the 15 Neighborhood Tax Centers in the Houston area have navigators on site every Friday and Saturday.
Mayor Annise Parker says the City is involved in several programs to promote good health for Houstonians, like the Million Pound Challenge that challenges Houstonians to collectively lose a million pounds this year.
“But the financial health of the community is just as important as the physical health of the community. Fiscal health — physical health.”
Neighborhood Centers assists individuals who make $30,000 or less and families earning up to $50,000 a year.