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Calgary agencies helping low-income and new Canadians file taxes

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A Calgary non-profit is offering free tax clinics to its programs participants.

Momentum describes itself as a "change-making" organization that combines "social and economic strategies to reduce poverty."

Executive director Jeff Loomis says people living on lower incomes have two barriers to overcome when filing taxes.

"One is people are worried that they're going to owe money to the government, while most of the time people living on lower incomes actually receive benefits from filing taxes," he said.

"The second big barrier is oftentimes just a lack of knowledge or trust."

Loomis says Momentum will offer access to benefits support all year round so people can get benefits at a time that works well for them.

"We know that for Canadians living on lower income, filing taxes and then accessing the benefits can actually result in up to 50 per cent of their annual income," he said. "So it makes a huge difference for those people to be able to boost their incomes by filing taxes."

The clinics are made possible by a number of volunteers, like Dale Huntingford.

He says he'll likely see a few hundred people living this tax season.

"You spend 20 minutes with someone and you can get them access to some extra income," he said.

"Things like the GST rebates, the carbon tax rebates, the child tax benefit, often your access to subsidized housing programs and the low (cost) bus pass is related to showing your latest income tax filing."

Huntingford says he sees some people coming in who are afraid of forms or not comfortable with numbers and don't have access to a computer.

He says Canada Revenue is supportive of the volunteer filers and make it easy for them to access expert advice over the phone to help solve a client's problems quickly.

"One of the most satisfying (cases I've had is) a young mother raising her child and trying to keep going to school," he said. "Within 10 minutes (I got her) access to $10,000 of income, which kind of stabilizes them for another year, and that feels good."

Tyler Lindsey saw a volunteer to help file his taxes. He's currently unemployed, but worked a few jobs in 2023.

"They were able to go through it in about 10 to 15 minutes and get me quite a bit of money back," he said.

"Enough to keep me going for a couple of months here with all the pressure of everything being so expensive from inflation. It's really a life-saver for me."

The Immigrant Education Society (TIES) has hosted a free tax clinic supporting new Canadians since 2017.

Its volunteer-run clinic has seen more than double the clients, from an expected 300 taxpayers to over 800.

Noha El Tanahi, the acting manager of settlement services, says bookings are filled until two weeks after the April 30 deadline, and along with walk-in clients, she expects another 500 people looking for tax filing assistance.

"We try to educate and empower newcomers to feel like Canada's home and (make) their life in Calgary much easier," she said.

"Some people are coming from different backgrounds, so the word 'tax' for them means a lot of bad things, not good things, so there is no benefits related to taxes."

She says that results in newcomers not filing taxes and receiving benefits they are entitled to.

El Tanahi says the TIES tax clinic helps clients with eligibility under the government’s definition of modest incomes, and supports clients in Arabic, Spanish, Ukranian, Russian, Dari, Hindi and Tagalog.

She says with the high cost of living in Calgary, every dollar helps.

El Tanahi says returns can range from a few hundred dollars to thousands, and remembers a case of helping a single mother.

"She told me that she's from immigrant parents, so she came here, she never ever filed her taxes for maybe four or five years, and she has three children," said El Tanahi.

"She doesn't even know that there is a child benefit, so she walked out from the office with maybe over $30,000 she is receiving a year, so she was so happy, thrilled about the service."

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