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Tax Returns in Spanish to Be Put to the Test : Language: Some hail IRS experiment as progressive, but two congressmen call it wasteful. It’s meant to increase tax revenue, reduce fraud by preparers.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Spanish language income tax forms are coming to Orange County on a trial basis next week for the first time in the federal government’s 81 years of collecting taxes.

The forms are being distributed only in Southern California and southern Florida, where there are large Latino populations, as an experiment aimed at increasing tax revenue.

Supporters hope the project will help more Latinos file their own tax forms, which would decrease tax-preparer fraud, but critics oppose printing federal forms in any language except English.

“It’s welcome news,” said Latino issues advocate Amin David of Los Amigos of Orange County.

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“It’s very progressive thinking, which will ultimately save the consumer money because they can fill out their own income tax forms instead of going to a tax preparer,” David said.

John Palacio, a spokesman for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund of Orange County, agreed.

“It may minimize the exploitation and abuse of the immigrant community by those who file their taxes,” he said.

It will also give immigrants, who are often accused of feeding off the public welfare system, a chance to “pay their fair share of taxes,” Palacio said.

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But at least two Orange County congressmen, Ron Packard (R-Oceanside) and Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), vehemently oppose the $100,000 pilot project, claiming the forms are a waste of money that will make tax collection more confusing.

“Will the United States government print forms . . . for all of the thousands of different languages spoken and written by people in this country?” Packard asked in a written statement.

“This is a practical and fiscal impossibility.

“At a time when the federal government faces unprecedented fiscal constraints, this does not represent a prudent use of taxpayer funds.”

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Rohrabacher’s spokesman, Dale Neugebauer, said the congressman also believes all government business should be conducted in English and all forms should be printed in English.

Both Packard and Rohrabacher are supporting legislation to make English the official language of the U.S. government.

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Despite criticism of the Spanish language forms, the Internal Revenue Service decided to go forward with the project, said IRS Laguna Niguel district spokeswoman Judith Golden.

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“Most people want to comply but they don’t know how to and can’t understand the forms,” she said.

“The IRS isn’t concerned about (which language a person speaks or) legal or illegal status. . . . We just want the taxes,” Golden said.

The IRS has already started to distribute 500,000 Spanish language 1040A forms to the Southland and southern Florida, Golden said.

Although the pilot project costs $100,000, Golden said printing Spanish forms on a permanent basis would not cost the government extra money.

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“It wouldn’t be doubling” the number of forms, Golden said. “We’d be substituting one for the other.”

Taxpayers who file a Spanish language form one year would receive the Spanish form again the next year instead of an English one, she said.

Golden stressed that the project is experimental and said the IRS wants to know what people think of the forms.

“We’re hoping the community will give us feedback on the way we did,” she said.

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Maria Beristain, a 28-year-old Santa Ana resident who paid a professional to file her form this year, said she supports the idea.

“That’s good. I can do them myself now,” she said.

Latino issues advocate John Gamboa said he backs the experiment but fears that few people will take advantage of the forms.

“The people who are going to do their income tax themselves are bilingual,” said Gamboa, who serves as director of the San Francisco-based Latino Issue Forum.

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“It would be better for the IRS to hire bilingual people than print the forms,” he said.

Last year the IRS attempted a smaller test run of Spanish 1040EZ forms, but the effort never got off the ground because of translating delays and poor publicity about and distribution of the forms, IRS spokeswoman Golden said.

This year the forms should arrive at IRS centers throughout Orange county by the first week of February, she said. Forms will be available in the Santa Ana IRS office on the second floor at 34 Civic Center Plaza, and may also be available in community centers and churches that serve Latinos, she said.

The IRS is also offering free income tax filing assistance at centers throughout the county in both English and Spanish.

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Free Tax Help in Spanish

Locations offering free tax-preparation assistance to Spanish-speaking filers:

ANAHEIM

* George Washington Community Center 250 E. Cypress St.

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Dates: Mondays, Feb. 7-April 11

Hours: 6-9 p.m.

* St. Boniface Catholic Church 120 N. Janss St., Room A

Dates: Tuesdays, Feb. 1-April 12

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Hours: 6:30-9 p.m.

FULLERTON

* Maple Senior Multi-Service Center 701 S. Lemon St.

Dates: Thursdays, Feb. 3-April 14

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Hours: 6:30-9 p.m.

LAGUNA NIGUEL

* Seaside Meadows-31 Seaport Street of the Golden Lantern and Serenity Lane

Dates: Saturdays, Feb 5-April 9

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Hours: 1-5 p.m.

SANTA ANA

* Newhope Branch Library 122 N. Newhope St.

Dates: Wednesdays, Feb. 9-April 13

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Hours: 6-7:45 p.m.

* Corbin Community Center 2215 W. McFadden Ave.

Dates: Tuesdays, Feb. 1-April 12

Hours: 7-10 p.m.

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* Rancho Santiago College 17th and Bristol streets, Building U

Dates: Thursdays, Feb. 3-April 14

Hours: 6-9 p.m.

SEAL BEACH

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* Los Alamitos-Rossmoor Library 12700 Montecito Road

Dates: Saturdays, Feb. 5-April 9

Hours: 1-4:30 p.m.

STANTON

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* Stanton Library 7850 Katella Ave.

Dates: Saturdays, Feb. 5-April 9

Hours: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

Source: Internal Revenue Service

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