By Oona Milliken | [email protected]
The Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, alongside the Freelancer’s Union, announced on Thursday, October 26 that New York City would provide free tax preparation for freelancers and self-employed filers. Vilda Vera Mayuga, the Commissioner of the Dept. of Consumer and Worker Protection, said she was proud to announce the new program in order to help self-employed filers who might not know how to navigate paying their taxes.
“We take a lot of pride in the services we are providing, our partners are serious organizations who are really committed to delivering a high quality service by having volunteers who are certified by the IRS to complete these tax returns,” Mayuga said during the press conference. “It’s all about supporting [freelancing and self-employed] New Yorkers who often face barriers to filing taxes and managing financial record keeping.”
Freelancers in New York can visit nyc.gov/taxprep or call 311 to be referred to the services and find an assistance station near them. The services will be offered in English, Spanish, Arabic, Cantonese, Mandarin, and Korean. Rafel Espinal, the Executive Director for the Freelancers Union and a former city council member for the 37th District, said freelancers are particularly vulnerable and that offering free tax services is a way to help self-employed workers navigate the system.
“It’s a big deal. Taxes are probably one of the most complicated aspects of becoming a self-employed individual. Everything from paying a self-employment tax to understanding what aspects of your daily routines you can claim on your taxes as a business expense, to understanding how much money you’re gonna owe,” Espinal said in an interview. “One, the education and the access to the program is important just because of the financial implications freelancers can face to get their taxes on time. Two, is to ensure that they are making use of every tax break and every tax incentive that’s available to them and making sure that they’re aware of them.”
Eduardo Almonte said that he was a freelance web developer, a creative director and “seven other things, like everybody in the city.” Almonte said he started getting into freelance web developing around 2014 and did not understand the challenges of working for yourself at first. Almonte, a first-generation immigrant from Puerto Rico, raised in Douglas Houses on the Upper West Side, said he faced setbacks during his career as a freelancer and that any help from the government was appreciated.
“As I started to get older, I recognized that [freelancing] wasn’t as I first imagined, number one. Number two, the barrier of entry to a sustainable business, and the bureaucracy tied to it, it was kind of gargantuan,” Almonte said. “I suddenly recognized that I didn’t have as much social mobility as I thought I did.”
Almonte said he thought the city was doing the best they could but that a lot of freelancers have traditionally been figuring out how to navigate the system themselves.
“It’s nice that we’re bouncing back with the jobs that were lost [during the pandemic]. But a lot of people who are freelancers are really figuring it out by themselves. For example, I just filed my taxes, and I don’t remember the correct number, but there’s like $3,000 tax on top of what I needed to pay.” Almonte said. “That’s serious money for people like me.”
Espinal said he wanted to spread the word about the free tax service so that self-employed workers did not unnecessarily spend money on a certified accountant or misfile their taxes. Eduardo said the Dept. of Consumers and Workers Protection were attempting to target low-income freelancers that would most benefit from the service.
“The most important thing that they should know is that it’s a free resource. You know, hiring a CPA can cost hundreds of dollars, especially especially at a time when when the city’s cost of living continues to increase, this is this is another way in which a freelancer can save money and ensure that they are that they are receiving all of the all the benefits and resources they need when it comes to filing their taxes,” Espinal said.