By California Black Media Staff
A little over one year ago, members of the California Board of Equalization (BOE) unanimously selected Malia M. Cohen, former President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to chair the 141-year-old state agency.
Cohen made history when she became the first African-American woman elected to the Board of Equalization in November of 2018. She is also the first Black woman to serve as Chair of the Board of Equalization, the Agency responsible for administering California’s $70 billion property tax system.
In her role, Cohen represents nearly 10 million constituents residing in 23 counties in Northern and Central California, extending from Del Norte County in the north to Santa Barbara County in the south.
She’s the youngest constitutional officer serving in California.
Our interview with Cohen is one of several we will have with state officials from all backgrounds. What they share with us will help keep African Americans in California up to speed with important news coming out of government that has direct impact on our lives, money, health and civil rights.
Our goal is to help close the information gap that exists between our community and other groups throughout our state.
California Black Media (CBM): The coronavirus pandemic is clearly impacting the economy. Just how bad is it?
Malia Cohen (MC): It’s bad. The pandemic has turned all of our lives upside down. Just this week, the governor announced that over 1.6 million Californians have filed for unemployment because of the pandemic. Many more will file in the weeks to come. State and local governments will lose revenue needed to maintain vital services. It is a true financial crisis.
CBM: How are our elected leaders responding to this financial crisis?
MC: Our African-American elected leaders in California’s Congressional delegation — Senator Kamala Harris and Congresswomen Maxine Waters, Barbara Lee, and Karen Bass — have been working overtime to provide financial assistance. We are fortunate to have our own Congresswoman Maxine Waters serving as Chair of the House Financial Services Committee and Congresswoman Karen Bass serving as the Chair of Congressional Legislative Black Caucus. In the coming days, I look forward to working with these remarkable African American leaders to provide direct communication about financial relief for our community. One way will be through telephone town halls and community press communications just like this.
CBM: What can be done to assist persons who are suffering financially as a result of the pandemic?
MC: Action has already been taken to delay the date for filing and payment of income taxes to the IRS and the California Franchise Tax Board. The traditional tax day deadline of April 15 has been extended to July 15. Individual taxpayers seeking information about their own filing requirements can call the IRS at 1-800-829-1040 and businesses can call 1-800-829-4933. For the California Franchise Tax Board, taxpayers can call 1-800-852-5711.
CBM: What help is coming for a person who just needs money to live on?
MC: Congress also approved payments of up to $1,200 for individuals and $2,400 for married couples, and $500 for each qualifying child. These funds will be sent to everyone who filed federal income taxes for either 2018 or 2019, and has an income under $75,000 for individuals and up to $150,000 for married couples. These checks will be reduced by $5 for every $100 above the $75,000 and $150,000 thresholds. Single filers with incomes over $99,000 and $198,000 for couples are not eligible.
CBM: How are the checks going to be distributed?
MC: They are going to be sent out via direct deposit to bank accounts.
CBM: What if the IRS does not have my direct deposit information, or if I have moved?
MC: According the IRS website, “In the coming weeks, Treasury plans to develop a web based portal for individuals to provide their banking information to the IRS online, so that individuals can receive payments immediately as opposed to checks in the mail.”
CBM: What about folks who usually don’t file tax returns, and can they get a check?
MC: According to the IRS, the website irs.gov/coronavirus is going to publish information about how to file for these coronavirus economic impact checks even if you have not filed a tax return in 2018 or 2019.
CBM: Do you have any other suggestions for persons who need relief?
MC: Yes. Please remember to file for the California Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and the Young Child Tax Credit if you or your family are eligible. Here’s how to file. If you have taxable earned income under $30,000, you can file and receive up to $240 if you have no children. If you have one child, the credit could be as high as $1,605. If you have three or more children, the credit rises to $2,982. In California, a taxpayer files Franchise Tax Board Form 3514 California Earned Income Tax Credit along with your state income tax return. To get a copy of Form 3514, go to the Franchise Tax Board website, ftb.ca.gov. Click on “Forms” in the top right of the website. Then, under “Get forms, instructions, and publications” click “Online.” On the next page, where it says “Form Number and/or Keywords” type in 3514. That will take you to the form for filing the California Earned Income Tax Credit.
Also, you may qualify for the federal IRS Earned Income Tax Credit. To qualify, you must file an income tax return with the IRS (Form 1040), and also be within income guidelines. If you have children, you attached “Schedule EIC” to your Form 1040. To get more information, go the IRS website, irs.gov, click on “Credits and Deductions” at the top of the page. Then click on “Earned Income Credit (EITC).”
CBM: What about financial assistance for small businesses?
MC: Congress just passed a $349 billion paycheck protection program which provides loans to small businesses to help them keep their workers on payroll. This is one way to help businesses so that they do not have to lay off their employees. Every eligible small business should consider taking advantage of this program.
CBM: Where can people get information about this program?
MC: Go to the website treasury.gov/cares and click on “Assistance for Small Business.”
CBM: What if I run a small business and can’t get together my California Sales Tax filing because of the Governor’s stay at home order?
MC: Businesses affected by the Coronavirus can request relief of interest or penalties or request an extension for filing a return by going to the California Department of Tax and Fee’s website: CDTFA.ca.gov. Go to the “Alert!” banner at the top of the page, and click on “Learn more” after the sentence, “CDTFA is able to make it easier for taxpayers to request relief.” Or, taxpayers can call: 1-800-400-7115.
CBM: Will taxpayers still have to pay their property taxes on April 10th?
MC: The April 10th deadline is fixed in statute. Only San Francisco has extended the deadline to May 4 due to the shelter-in-place order in effect in San Francisco. Local county tax collectors can relieve penalties and interests if they determine that failure to make timely payment is due to reasonable cause and circumstances beyond the taxpayer’s control. Taxpayers would have to file for relief of penalties and interest with their county tax collector. I certainly hope that tax collectors are willing to grant relief to all who are impacted by the coronavirus and the stay-at-home orders.
CBM: How do we contact you if we need help?
MC: We are always eager to help. Call and leave me a message at 1-415-557-3000 or email me at MaliaCohen@boe.ca.gov and we will get back to you as soon as we can. My website at www.boe.ca.gov/Cohen has many helpful resources or you can follow me on Facebook or sign up for my newsletter to receive updates.
Note: Complex tax laws and concepts were discussed in this interview. It may not address every situation and is not considered written advice. Changes in law or regulations may have occurred since the time this news release was written. If there is a conflict between the text of this news release and the law, decisions will be based upon the law and not this news release.