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The Nation

Refunds For Good

Peter Rothberg

Did you know that the most wide-reaching tax refund in IRS history is on tap for this year?

The Telephone Excise Tax Refund (TETR) is a one-time payment available on your 2006 federal income tax return. It's designed to refund previously collected long distance telephone taxes that have been ruled illegal by the courts. Any American who purchased long distance or wireless phone service between March 2003 and August 2006 is entitled to the refund. The trick is that you have to request it. (Click here for instructions.)

The Phone Excise Tax was enacted by Congress in 1898 to help fund the Spanish-American War. The government at the time was skittish about its ability to pay for its latest colonial venture so it enacted the tax over widespread public opposition. Shockingly, though it took US forces less than four months to conquer the island of Cuba, the tax to fund that operation has been on the phone bills of US consumers ever since.

In May 2006, following the losses of five federal court decisions, the IRS finally agreed to stop assessing the surcharge and to accept a court order to refund taxpayers. The American public is eligible to receive an estimated $20 billion through this refund, if taxpayers claim it; half going to businesses and non-profits, and half to individuals. Individuals are due to receive from $30 to $60 each based on their own deductions. But the IRS is counting on more than half of all people eligible to neglect to ask for the money.

To urge people to claim their refunds and then donate this found money to a good cause, two social entrepreneurs, Jonathan Gorham and Michael Swartz, have launched The interactive site--which has drawn support from thirteen Nobel Peace Laureates--offers clear guidance on how to claim the refunds and highlights three US non-profits as potential recipients of this unexpected residual.


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*PeaceJam Foundation works to nurture a new generation of young leaders committed to social change through peace-making service projects in local communities.

* Solar Electric Light Fund brings solar power and modern communications to rural villages in the developing world for enhancements in health, education, and economic well-being.

* Physicians for Social Responsibility organizes medical and public health support for policies to stop nuclear war and proliferation and to slow, stop and reverse global warming and toxic degradation of the environment.

Taxpayers can use the secure form at to make a tax deductible donation of any amount to one or more of the three non-profits. Kudos to Gorham and Swartz for this great idea. Let's take full advantage of it.

© 2007 The Nation

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