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At filing time, Stauber hears 'mixed bag' from taxpayers

Pete Stauber

Visiting Duluth on Friday to help publicize a free federal income tax filing program, Rep. Pete Stauber agreed that some constituents were struggling with the Republican-led tax cuts from 2017.

Individual taxpayers are seeing the ramifications of the GOP's signature Tax Cuts and Jobs Act for the first time this tax season.

"It's kind of a mixed bag right now," Stauber said. "But all of the returns haven't been in either. We've still got a month left."

Stauber, R-Hermantown, called the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act "a good start." Signed into law by President Donald Trump in December 2017, it was notable early on for cutting the corporate income tax from 35 percent to 21.

But with tax season upon us, the individual side of things is playing out and some workers are finding smaller tax refunds or that they have to pay in more than anticipated.

Among the changes this year, taxpayers filing their 2018 personal income taxes will not be able to claim a $4,050 personal exemption for the first time since the new tax code became law.

Stauber also made note of the doubling of the standard deduction from $12,000 to $24,000. Stauber is hearing from people whose work-related expenses can exceed that — including traveling construction workers.

"We can do even better than that," Stauber said, "and that's one of the things we're looking at right now. We're talking, for instance, with our building and construction trades folks. Even though you doubled the (deductions) from $12,000 to $24,000, they're going beyond that."

Stauber offered insight into the type of changes he's hearing about and examining.

"So, it would be nice to allow folks that work jobs where they have to travel to be able to deduct the actual (cost) — whatever is higher (than $24,000)," he said. "Those are some things we can work on that can even make it better."

Stauber spoke briefly at the Tax Time Allies event in the basement Green Room of the downtown library.

The event was designed to educate agencies and free tax-filing services about an Internal Revenue Service Program that allowed taxpayers with an adjusted gross income of $66,000 to file federal taxes for free — a savings between $50 and $700, said Lorena Merchan, a visiting representative from the IRS.

"We need to encourage more taxpayers to use this excellent resource," she said.

The program enables qualified taxpayers to go online and use from among a dozen commercial tax preparation products to prepare and file their federal return for no cost.

In addition to online filing, the event highlighted Volunteer Income Tax Assistance — a program conducted at different places throughout the city, including 2424 W. Fifth St., in Lincoln Park, where Community Action Duluth and its 73 volunteers offer help three days a week.

"They're amazing people," said Julia Cheng, director of tax services for Community Action Duluth. "We've got a 15-year history at Community Action Duluth as a (volunteer) tax site."

Volunteer assistance is available to serve people with an adjusted gross income of $56,000 or less.

Stauber praised the volunteer work being done to assist people who are vulnerable, veterans, people who are elderly or underprivileged and people who have difficulty navigating the tax system.

"With the median income in our area at $46,000, there are a lot of members of our community that are going to be using this," Stauber told a crowd of two dozen folks, many in the accounting industry. "Your volunteerism makes the world go around — without it, we'd be in a world of hurt."

Get started

Learn more about IRS Free File and other tax assistance services by visiting:

• TaxTimeAllies.org

• Revenue.state.mn.us, click on "Free Tax Preparation Help" under the "Individuals" tab

• Duluthlibrary.org/services/tax-help/

• Or go to: Volunteer Income Tax Assistance, Community Action Duluth, 2424 W. Fifth St., Monday and Tuesday evenings starting at 4:30 p.m., and Saturdays beginning at 8:30 a.m. Available through the April 15 tax deadline