IRS fails to inform 9/11 victims of tax breaks, leaving many first responders without refunds

By Dan Friedman New York Daily News

Victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families are entitled to big tax breaks, but many are missing out because the IRS isn’t telling them about the benefit.

Under a law passed months after the attacks, disability income resulting from terrorism is not taxable.

That means thousands of cops, firefighters and other first responders sickened after working at the site, and the families of those who’ve died, can claim $10,000, or the last three years of taxes the victim paid, whichever amount is larger.

But the IRS never updated its public guidance to advertise the benefit. Tax preparers, firms, — including New York City’s own insurance manager — and individual filers were left unaware.

One ailing former first responder who asked not to be named told the Daily News that his tax preparer, after failing to find agency information on the break, declined to request the refund for his client.

“He didn’t want to get involved,” the responder said.

Even operators on the agency’s own hotline aren’t trained to flag the benefit.

Chris Gifford, 59, a retired NYPD cop battling kidney cancer linked to days he spent manning a post by Ground Zero, said a hotline operator this spring told him she couldn’t help him seek the refund.

“She said, ‘We can’t give out that information,’” Gifford said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, whose office learned of the benefit from an ailing recovery worker, thought she’d got somewhere in April when IRS head John Koskinen told her the agency would update its guidance.

Three months later, it hasn’t.

Gillibrand’s office is still helping refund seekers who have been rebuffed by the IRS and is pushing for swifter action.

Gillibrand spoke on the phone Friday with Koskinen. He pledged immediate action to address the issue, her office said.

“The senator appreciates the commissioner’s personal commitment to resolving this issue quickly,” said Gillibrand spokesman Glen Caplin.

But advocates for victims still fear lower-level officials will drag their feet until next year, leaving those who are eligible at risk of losing out. Victims have to file for refunds within three years of diagnosis, and families of those who died must file within three years of the date of death.

“The IRS needs to update their publications as soon as possible or disabled 9/11 responders and survivors will lose another year of this tax relief, as will the families of those who died from their 9/11 injury,” said Ben Chevat, who heads 9/11 Healthwatch, a nonprofit monitoring benefit programs for attack victims.

Two victims who asked not be named said the IRS initially rejected their refund claims. They received tax relief after Gillibrand’s office intervened.

Jennifer McNamara, the widow of FDNY lieutenant John who died five years ago of colon cancer that doctors linked to his work at Ground Zero, is among those won’t receive a refund because they didn’t know to ask.

“It’s really a shame and it should be an embarrassment to our government that they allow it to happen,” she said.

McNamara, a lawyer who advises other victim’s families, counts herself “very well-informed” on benefits related to the attack.

“But I never knew about this,” she said.

As a result McNamara missed her window to seek a refund.

“I was told I was pretty much out of luck,” she said.

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