The Joy of Paying Taxes

By David Abel  |  Globe Staff  |  4/15/2002 

It may come as little surprise that in more than three decades as director of the Massachusetts Society of Certified Public Accountants, overseeing hundreds of accountants and thousands of clients, Theodore Flynn has never come across someone actually eager to pay taxes.

As another tax day comes and goes, he calls the prospect of such a discovery "slim to none."
"People just don't like to write checks to the government. No one is enthusiastic about that," he said.

Flynn has never met Stephen Webb.

Unlike the vast majority - surely an understatement - of the millions of Americans sending checks to the IRS today, Webb is savoring the moment.

"It feels great," he said. "I'm really very excited about it."

At 50, Webb is writing a check to the government for the first time in his life.

It's not much - $326.58 - but he's proud finally to be giving something back. When an accountant helped the Allston resident organize the complex forms and apprised him of what would strike virtually everyone as bad news, the Dallas native said, "Well, I guess I'm really one of you all now - a taxpayer."

For years, Webb has been on the opposite end, receiving instead of contributing cash to the nation's treasury. But like a growing number of welfare recipients coaxed off federal and state aid in recent years, Webb has managed to find a decent job.

Many of the newly employed still earn too little to pay any tax.

But, between 1994 and 2001, the number of families on welfare nationwide plummeted from 5.1 million to 2.1 million. In Massachusetts, over roughly the same period, the state's welfare caseload dropped from more than 103,000 families to approximately 46,000.

Liza Veras, a community organizer at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, has seen a steady increase in recent years in the number of former welfare recipients seeking assistance filing their taxes. Veras said her office has helped more than 300 families file this year and a surprising number of them are exuberant about doing so.

"The enthusiasm comes from a sense of independence," she said.

For Maria Trudelle, a divorced, 30-year-old mother of three, the joy of her first tax filing comes from the symbolism, as well as a healthy rebate of $1,680. Over the past three years, the Newton resident had collected more than $1,000 a month in welfare. The support has declined, however, since she found a job a few months ago as a receptionist at a local school.

"It's nice to finally take control of your life," Trudelle said. "But I haven't earned enough yet for me to owe the government money; I'm getting a refund this year."

In a new job after several years of collecting welfare, Sandra Lopez Teo, also a divorced mother of three, said her pride in paying taxes for the first time is the result of a decade-old dream about to come true: The 31-year-old Guatemala native expects to become a US citizen in the next few months.

"I feel like I'm actually legitimate now," she said.

Yet feelings of empowerment may be fleeting, especially because the working poor today are more and more likely to be audited by the IRS.

In the past five years, according to the IRS, audits of the working poor have increased by 48.6 percent. For taxpayers seeking the earned income credit reserved for the working poor, the odds of an audit last year were 1 in 47. The odds for those not seeking the credit were 1 in 366.

Such statistics don't worry Stephen Webb.

After years of living in homeless shelters and fighting alcoholism, he recently completed a training program at Boston's St. Francis House. He has found several jobs doing data entry. Though he is still sick and collecting aid from the government, he said he is happy to be giving back.

Flynn speculated that the enthusiasm won't last.

"I would say the waves of idealism are ofttimes dashed on the hard sands of reality," he said, "and they'll quickly become like the rest of us citizens - looking at taxes as a necessary chore, rather than an exciting adventure."

David Abel can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @davabel.

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