ITHACA, N.Y. — This Tax Day, a group of Tompkins County residents opted to donate federal income tax dollars or some of their tax refunds to a local organization that helps people re-enter the community from prison or jail.
On Tuesday, five people met outside 516 W. State St. to hand a $1,350 check to members of the Ultimate Reentry Opportunity, a local organization that helps people returning from jail and prison get back on their feet. URO is an initiative of the Multicultural Resource Center.
The residents’ reasons for protesting vary, as do their methods. Some people have been making under the taxable amount to avoid paying taxes, some have donated some of their tax refund, some are withholding their federal tax payment for 100 days in protest, and others are not paying their federal taxes.
People in cities across the country marched this weekend to protest President Donald Trump refusing to release his tax returns and financial conflicts of interest.
Local citizens have been working with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, the War Resisters League and TaxStrike100.com.
Withholding or diverting tax money is a way to protest the use of taxpayer dollars for wars. Across the country, as part of the 100-day strike, people are withholding $100 of their federal tax payment for 100 days in protest.
One Tompkins County resident taking part, Mary Loehr, said she has been a tax resister for 34 years. During much of that time, she has stayed under the taxable income amount, but she has also been a “non-filer” some years, too.
“I just can’t pay for killing,” Loehr said. “If I was asked to go kill someone, I couldn’t do it, so I don’t want my tax dollars doing that either.”
Protesting has not been without consequence for some. Local resident Karen Reixach said in response to not paying taxes, the Internal Revenue Service is taking 15 percent of her social security, which amounts to nearly $200 per month. Reixach said she is doing it out of religious conviction.
Neil Golder, of Ithaca, said he resists war tax in a different way.
“I do my war tax resistance in a legal way, which is to take approximately half of my income, my adjusted gross income and give it to the Community Foundation,” Golder said.
The Community Foundation of Tompkins County is dedicated to local philanthropy and civic engagement to enhance the quality of life for people who live and work in the county, according to their mission statement.
For whatever reason or method, members of Ultimate Reentry Opportunity said they are grateful for the donation.
The funding means they can continue working on care packages, scholarships for people returning from jail and prison that help with rent, utilities and transportation, Phoebe Brown, assistant coordinator at URO, said.
Brown said they try to help people not fall through the cracks.
“We center everything around people returning from jails and prisons,” Brown said.
As Tompkins County faces pressure from the New York State Commission of Correction to manage overcrowding at the jail, the county has made several investments related to reentry services in 2017.
Brown said they are working to make sure the focus on re-entry is not a passing fad.
“I want it to be life forever because in certain communities, this has been our conversation. We’re losing our young people, we’re losing our husbands, our wives to this mass incarceration, to this focus on people of color. So this is important work that we should be at the center of,” Brown said.
Featured image: Members of Ultimate Reentry Opportunity accept a $1,350 donation from community members. Kelsey O’Connor/Ithaca Voice