HARTFORD, Conn. – Thousands of Connecticut taxpayers could potentially receive a lucrative financial windfall.
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U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Friday he has learned there is $13.4 million worth of unclaimed tax refunds from 2011 currently owed to Connecticut taxpayers. The bulk of that money, he said, is owed to people who didn't claim the federal Earned Income Tax Credit.
The program is available for people with moderate incomes. It reduces the amount of taxes someone owes or it could result in a refund. The credit varies based on income and family size. In 2011, it was worth as much as $5,751 for families with three or more children and earning less than $43,998 a year, or $49,078 for those married and filing jointly.
"This $13 million can have real life consequences," said Blumenthal, who was joined Friday at the YWCA facility in Hartford with human services and tax advocates.
Blumenthal said he came up with the idea to check on the amount of unclaimed refunds owed to Connecticut taxpayers after discussing the issue with some fellow senators. He said the IRS told him there are more than 13,400 Connecticut residents who haven't yet filed their 2011 tax returns. Some of those people might not have met the income threshold for filing a federal tax return but still might have qualified for the earned income tax credit.
According to the IRS, federal income tax refunds totaling $1 billion nationally may be waiting for an estimated one million taxpayers who didn't file a federal return for 2011. The IRS estimates half of the potential refunds are more than $698. The potential median refund for Connecticut taxpayers is $777.
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"Time is running out for people who didn't file a 2011 federal income tax return to claim their refund," said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen, adding that many students and part-time workers could also be eligible for refunds. The IRS said there is no penalty for filing a late tax return that qualifies for a refund.
Blumenthal urged residents needing help with tax preparation to visit Volunteer Income Tax Assistance sites, which offers free tax preparation for individuals with household incomes of up to $53,000. Taxpayers can call 211 to find locations and set up appointments.
There is a three-year grace period for claiming a refund.
"Once April 15 comes and goes, the refunds for 2011 are gone," said Blumenthal, who jokingly urged people not to leave the money on the table for the federal government to "devour." The IRS said the unclaimed money becomes property of the U.S. Treasury.
The tax return must be properly addressed, mailed and postmarked by April 15.
Laura O'Keefe, coordinator of the family financial stability initiative at The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, told the story of a single mother she helped several years ago with her taxes. O'Keefe said the woman didn't know she was eligible for the EITC for several years and wound up receiving a $10,000 federal tax income.
O'Keefe said the woman was in foreclosure at the time and was able to use the money to save her home. The refund also helped the woman free up money to pay for food and her family's other needs at local stores and businesses.
"This not only impacts individuals and families," she said. "It impacts communities as a whole."