Sunday, July 29, 2001

Tax refund
no cure-all
in Hawaii

An unenthusiastic crowd in
Hawaii is getting Uncle Sam's
first round of checks

By Lisa Asato

The refund check is in the mail but local taxpayers are not thrilled.

It will take a lot more than the average $411.24 refund from the U.S. Treasury Department to lighten their financial load, Hawaii taxpayers groused yesterday. Most said their refunds will go toward alleviating one major headache: Bills.

Retiree Stephen Vasconcellos was incredulous when his notice of a $300 refund resulted in a $298 check. "It's a tax refund but they take taxes out of it," he complained.

His fiancee, Marge Powell, said she got a letter saying she too could expect a $300 refund, but now she knows better. The letter, she said, also informed her the check would arrive on Sept. 24, the same month her $500 in quarterly taxes are due to the federal government.

"We're not going to spend it, we can't," she said. "It's going to go right back."

Almost 37,000 checks totaling $15.1 million have been sent to Hawaii taxpayers in the first two weeks of the federal tax refund program which began last week.

The second batch of checks were mailed Friday and should be arriving this week. The Internal Revenue Service said it expects to send out more than 90 million checks totaling $39 billion as a result of the 10-year, $1.35 trillion tax cut passed by Congress and signed by President George W. Bush.

The IRS sent notices to taxpayers detailing the amount of their checks, and in some cases, why they wouldn't get one.

Twenty-year-old Justin Pirtle was dismayed when his notice informed him of a $94 refund. "I was expecting $300," said Pirtle, who filed as a single taxpayer. The Maui resident was in Honolulu yesterday for a concert at the Waikiki Shell, and he said the refund isn't "free money."

"You have to spend it on bills ... if you're behind on bills it helps you catch up," he said.

As joint filers, Sgt. Joseph Amaya and his wife, Lydia, are entitled to as much as $600, which works out to $100 for each family member. "I guess for me $600 isn't anything," said Amaya, whose children range from 5 to 20. "It's just one bill for one month, that's it. Part of the rent, a quarter of the mortgage ..."

Jeffrey Ebos, a truck driver for a liquor distribution company, was "not impressed" with the $300 refund he could receive as a single tax filer. That amount could clear one of his two credit card debts, but still wouldn't be enough to pay his dental bills, he said.

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