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Maite Arce Headshot

Taxes Key for Latinos on Health Care, Immigration Future

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For Latinos, the 2012 tax return presents significant opportunity. In fact, the potential impact of key legislative changes for the nation's fastest growing population is unprecedented.

Starting in 2014, many people -- not just Latinos -- who do not have health insurance may be able to receive a subsidy based on their household income and family size to help with the cost. Eligibility for assistance can be determined from an individual's 2012 tax return, which can also streamline the insurance plan enrollment process with a health insurance exchange. With the individual mandate requiring nearly everyone to have health insurance in 2014, a key component of Affordable Care Act is the health insurance exchange -- a marketplace where consumers can shop for a health insurance plan.

Latinos are by far the least insured demographic in the nation. For 2011, the U.S. Census estimated that 30.1 of Latinos are uninsured, compared to just 11.1 percent of whites. This lack of coverage is compounded by the fact that Latinos are 165 percent more likely to live in areas where environmental concerns can lead to greater health complications, according to the American Lung Society.

As for immigration reform, it is expected that both political parties will support a reconciliation of unpaid taxes as a prerequisite on the path to citizenship or legal residency. While plan details are still being discussed, it will likely require individuals to submit tax documentation for multiple years -- an individual will need to provide an accurate tax history as part of the application process.

Unauthorized Latinos have long been chided for not filing taxes. But what is often overlooked is that state and local taxes paid in 2010 by households headed by unauthorized immigrants totaled $11.2 billion, according to the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy.

For the majority of Latinos, however, it's not a question of not wanting to pay taxes (many do!) but rather a lack of understanding, not having an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), concern about immigration status or fear of the process. In fact, many Latinos who we meet have paid into the system for years, but never filed taxes.

In several of the countries from which our Latino immigrants come, the tax system is a wholly different process or not even enforced at all. Others have worked with unskilled tax preparers who miss even the most obvious deductions or those who add fraudulent deductions to inflate returns. Language barriers only exacerbate these issues.

This is why our campaign, "Prepárate Para Un Futuro Mejor (Prepare for a Better Future)," to educate Latinos on the U.S. tax system has been so successful. This tax season we will hold over 150 free tax seminars in coordination with Latino faith leaders as partners within the community and provide access to bilingual tax experts. Since 2010, we've provided tax education and information to over 50,000 Latinos. Our emphasis is on the importance of building an accurate tax history and being a good contributor.

By looking at future economic factors, the importance of this education becomes evident. Latino buying power is expected to reach $1.5 trillion in 2015, according to a recent Nielsen report. The U.S. Census estimated that there are more than 2.3 million Latino business owners contributing more than $350 billion to the nation's economy.

Furthermore, the Latino population is expected to double to 100 million by 2050, and tax contributions will grow along with it. Affordable health care and immigration acceptance may be incentives for Latinos to file taxes, but the benefit will help our nation's tax income grow and improve the lives of many.