We currently live in a complex and uncertain world. In addition to this, content can now be created by anyone, anywhere, and published on multiple platforms – it is hard to differentiate fact from fiction. However, the proper functioning of democracy and governance relies on citizens being aware of their representatives and issues that they support. Direct and transparent dialogue between the constituents and their representatives ensures the minimization of misinformation.
It was great to see that Congressman Ro. Khanna (Congressional District 17) and Senator Dave Cortese (Senate District 15) recently hosted a town hall for the constituents of the Bay Area on April 8th, 2021. This was an opportunity for people to engage with their elected representatives and understand their focus on various critical topics like overcoming COVID-19, housing/homelessness, climate change, and more.
Congressman Khanna mentioned that under the new administration, the federal government has allocated close to 2 billion dollars for infrastructure and development for the area which should help drive positive change within the region. This would help combat homelessness and make affordable housing more accessible. In the last few years, federal cuts in funding to redevelopment agencies had hurt the state’s ability to focus on development projects for the community.
The Bay Area tends to be one of the most diverse and tolerant areas in the US but despite that, it has been contaminated by the recent incidents of hate crimes against Asians. One such assault happened in March when an Asian woman was dragged by the hair and tossed around for over a minute by an assailant who kept cursing her for being Asian. What has been even more troubling is the targeting of the elderly Asian population.
Both Senator Dave Cortese and Congressman Ro. Khanna expressed deep regret and disappointment at the recent escalation of hate incidents and crimes against Asian and Pacific Islander communities. They urged citizens to speak up when they see these incidents happening and also for citizens to be aware of the history of Asian immigrants in the USA. Some of this history is not taught in schools.
On the topic of COVID vaccines, Senator Cortese mentioned that the state was currently receiving 1.8 Million vaccine doses per week and that was going to increase to 2.5 million doses per week and then to 3 million doses per week by the end of the month. This increase could help achieve herd immunity sooner if people choose to get vaccinated as they become eligible for vaccines. The senator also shared how he has pushed for recalculation of equity formula for vaccine allotment for Santa Clara county. You can read more on this topic here.
It is critical that we keep ourselves well informed about the vaccine and encourage our communities to get vaccinated as the vaccines become available. The recent focus of public health messaging has clearly helped with awareness but we all have to play our part in debunking myths and concerns within the South Asian community to play our part.
Curious for more information on issues backed by the Senator and Congressman?
Recently Congressman Khanna was appointed chair of the Subcommittee on Environment. You can read more about the issues that Congressman Khanna is supporting here.
To read more about Senator Cortese’s work you can visit his website.
Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.
Houston may already be the third most populous city in the United States, elbowing aside broad-shouldered Chicago and trailing New York and Los Angeles as first and second, respectively. We won’t know until the 2020 census is concluded.
“In most parts of the country, there has been little or very modest growth, but not in Texas,” said Dr. Richard Murray, a political science professor at the University of Houston speaking to a convening of census advocates and experts co-hosted by Houston in Action, the Leadership Conference Education Fund and Ethnic Media Services. “By far, we’ve added more people, according to the [Census Bureau’s] Community Survey, than any other state.”
Texas may have gained as many as 4 million people since 2010, Murray said.
The convening represented the first formal briefing about the 2020 census for and with news outlets representing a broad spectrum of audiences from Hispanic, African American, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean to Nepalese, Asian Indian, and African diaspora communities.
Echoing the sense of pride in Houston’s growth, many speakers called the census an opportunity for the city’s increasingly diverse communities to stand up and be counted. A large percentage of the state’s growth stemmed from Latino births and immigration, but its fastest growing demographic is the Asian American community, according to Nabila Mansour of the Empowering Communities Initiative.
“We’ve had about 128% growth from the year 2000,” Mansour reported. “Asian Americans in Texas, we’re about 1.5 million, and 27% of Asian Americans live in Harris County or Fort Bend.” Houston is the county seat of Harris County, Richmond, Fort Bend’s County’s seat, is less than 40 miles away.
Mansour said her organization’s staff spend a lot of time going into East and South Asian communities to educate them about the importance of the census, especially since residents who arrived in the United States after 2010 may have had no experience with a census in their country of origin.
Numbers matter. The aggregate per person count is used to calculate the annual federal dollar allotments Texas counties and cities will receive to fund many state and local programs, from Medicaid to hospital and school construction and road building. One estimate is that Houston alone would lose $3.78 billion in federal funding between now and the 2030 census if the city’s population is undercounted by 10%.
Within the 254 Texas counties, 25% of Texans live in Hard to Count (HTC) communities or neighborhoods, regions or populations with historically low response rates during previous censuses, said Katie Lightfoot of the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. “Kids under five, immigrants, people of color, families that move frequently, non-English speaking communities, low-income households, people in rural areas, renters, complex households – the list goes on and on,” Lightfoot said of HTC tract characteristics.
HTC communities are fairly ubiquitous in Texas. For example, the Vietnamese who rely on fishing or other economic activities linked to coastlines, often reside in rural areas more difficult for census-takers to canvas, noted Jannette Diep of Boat People SOS, and they are less likely to have access to computers or the Internet to avail themselves of the Census Bureau’s highly touted online census survey.
The number of HTC communities in Harris County is eye-opening. “Harris County has the highest number of Hard to Count people in the state of Texas,” Lightfoot explained. “That’s over one million people in Harris County who are hard to count.”
Changes in funding programs is just one result of an undercount. Population also determines reapportionment. If the census captures the state’s growth, experts project, Texas could add another two or three congressional seats to its delegation in the U.S. House of Representatives, Murray noted, and likely one more seat in the state legislature as well. And, there is redistricting, redrawing the boundaries of congressional districts so the numerical representation in each is roughly proportionate.
Panelists cited cross-cutting issues they think make this census particularly challenging and that could depress the response rate. Foremost, they said, has been negative reactions to the Department of Commerce Secretary’s attempt to include a census question on citizenship. Despite the 2019 judicial ruling that prohibited that action, participants across the ethnic groups they represented said “the damage has been done.”
A.J. Durani, of Emgage-USA, said President Trump’s remarks on his first presidential campaign trail and his subsequent actions since in office, particularly the Muslim travel ban, have had a chilling effect on his organization’s membership.
“These actions,” Durani stated, “have resulted in fear, apprehension, and trepidation among the Muslim community for any initiative of the current government, especially those whereby information or data are collected on individuals, that is, by the census.”
Durani said Emgage-USA, a multi-state organization, with chapters or a presence in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Virginia, seeks to promote civic education and engagement. He noted that although approximately a quarter of the Muslims in the greater Houston area are non-immigrant African Americans, the majority are immigrants from Asia, including Bangladesh and Indonesia, the Middle East, North Africa, and other countries in Africa with predominantly Muslim populations, like Somalia and Sudan.
Throughout the convening, trust — or rather mistrust — was a pervasive theme and one not solely relegated to immigrant communities. Ray Shackleford, representing the Houston chapter of the National Urban League, and national president of the Urban League’s Young Professionals, said mistrust of government is prevalent within the city’s African American community as well. “I think there is general mistrust when you’re talking about the government, and it’s a challenge because it’s something that’s well founded when you look at the history of government’s interaction with black people and, honestly, its communities of color overall.”
Shackleford, who has worked with Houston’s homeless population, outlined a scenario of a renter who has two people on the lease but shelters six in the apartment. “You don’t want to put that down on the census if you think it’s going to get into the hands of the landlord and they’re going to try to evict you.”
The lack of state funding to support census outreach was another issue raised at the convening. Shackleford said he recently attended a Houston meeting of professionals of Caribbean descent where he polled attendees informally on how much money they thought the Lone Star State had committed to outreach. Because of Texas pride, “they threw out big numbers,” Shackleford said, but were dumbfounded to learn the answer is zero.
In 2019, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner wrote to Texas Gov. Greg Abbott requesting funds for census outreach. Past Texas governors invested in census public education, but Abbott has declined to do so. With less federal revenue committed to the 2020 census than many longtime census observers deem necessary for a truly successful count, Turner, as have some other big city Texas mayors, is spending city revenue to raise the visibility of the census.
One compelling narrative that overrides distrust, speakers agreed, is the high stakes for kids if they are undercounted. Approximately 105,000 Texas children were not counted in the last census, said Elizabeth Bille, Texas State Director for NALEO, “and 75,000 of those are Latinos. So you can imagine what is at stake for our community and all communities of color.”
Bille spoke of her concerns, not only as an advocate, but as a mother, knowing and watching young children being deprived of health or educational resources that could be readily available were the census count accurate and communities received the appropriate funding. She also echoed Emgage-USA’s A.J. Durani in advocating for robust cooperation between census advocates and the ethnic media as trusted messengers.
Angelica Razo, State Director for Mia Familia Vota, said everyone already knows why people are fearful but “we need to empower them and tell them why need to fill out the census.” Razo agreed that ethnic media as trusted messengers are vital to educating communities but said there is another imperative needing emphasis. “Put some ownership on community members, they too are trusted messengers.”
Hyunja Norman, director of the Korean Voters Association, brought to the meeting promotional material she had developed and financed in order to reach Korean Americans. She struck an emotional chord with attendees about what is driving her engagement with her community around the census. “I am participating in the census because I am part of this great nation. We are part of this nation. We contribute to this nation. Make your community exist in this country.”
Ebony Fleming, of the children’s service organization BakerRipley, summed up the shared sense of pride of place through the census: “In the space you’re in, you matter.
Major tax legislation at the end of 2017 has suspended many prized deductions for 2018 through 2025, while cutting tax rates. Here are the details:
Altered and eliminated tax deductions
Personal exemptions. You can no longer count on personal exemptions, including dependency exemptions for children and other relatives. They are eliminated.
State and local tax (SALT). The deduction for state and local tax (SALT) payments is limited to $10,000 annually.
Mortgage interest. Mortgage interest deductions are modified, including eliminating deductions for home equity loan payments…unless funds from the loan were used to build, buy or substantially improve your home.
Miscellaneous expenses. The deduction for miscellaneous expenses, including unreimbursed employee expenses, is eliminated.
Moving expenses. Deductions for moving are eliminated (except for military personnel).
Casualty and theft loss. Casualty and theft loss deductions are eliminated (except for losses in federally declared disaster areas).
Enhanced tax deductions
Standard deduction. The standard deduction was nearly doubled to $12,000 for single filers and $24,000 for married filing jointly for 2018.
20-percent business deduction. A new up-to-20 percent deduction is allowed for qualified business income (QBI) of pass-through entities, including sole proprietors.
Child Tax Credit (CTC). The Child Tax Credit (CTC) is doubled to $2,000 (with a maximum refundable amount of $1,400) per qualifying child.
Medical expenses. The threshold for deducting medical expenses is lowered from 10 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) to 7.5 percent of AGI for 2018.
Alternative minimum tax (AMT). Favorable modifications apply to the AMT calculations, meaning far fewer taxpayers will be affected.
REMINDER: Rules have changed for these five tax breaks
New tax legislation provides numerous tax benefits for individuals for 2018 through 2025. But not all the changes are likely to align with your go-to tax strategy from previous years. Here are five big tax breaks that could leave you with a tax surprise come April 2019.
State and local taxes: The new tax law limits the deduction for state and local taxes (SALT) to $10,000 annually. This includes any combination of property taxes AND income or sales taxes.
Entertainment expenses: You can no longer deduct 50 percent of your entertainment expenses. But there’s still some leeway. According to a new IRS ruling, you may deduct 50 percent of food and beverages paid separately from entertainment like a basketball or hockey game. Also, a business can deduct 100 percent of the cost of its holiday party.
Miscellaneous expenses: The new law eliminates deductions for miscellaneous expenses, such as out-of-pocket employee business expenses. If possible, have these expenses reimbursed by your employer’s accountable plan. Generally, the expenses are deductible by the employer and tax-free to employees.
Kiddie tax: The kiddie tax continues to apply to unearned income above $2,100 received by a dependent child under 19 or full-time student under 24. But the new law puts more teeth into this tax. The kiddie tax is now based on the tax rates for estate and trusts. This generally produces a higher tax, so plan intra-family transfers accordingly.
Home equity loans: In the past, a homeowner could deduct mortgage interest paid on the first $100,000 of home equity debt, regardless of use of the proceeds. The new law eliminates this deduction for home equity debt, unless the proceeds from the loan are used to buy, build or substantially improve your home. Fortunately, you may still deduct interest on the first $750,000 of acquisition debt acquired after December 2017.
Tax records needed for 2018 tax returns
Personal information: You still must provide your Social Security number (SSN), and SSNs for your spouse and dependents. For electronic filing, you will need your CA driver’s license or state issued identification card.
Employment information: Have all Forms W-2 for you and your spouse. A self-employed person must report income from Forms 1099-MISC and Forms K-1, plus information for calculating the new deduction on qualified business income (QBI).
Child expenses: Provide information for claiming the increased Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Child and Dependent Care Credit. This may include details for a dependent care provider.
Investments: Include all information on various Forms 1099 for capital gains and losses (including cost/basis information), dividends and interest. Fortunately, this can often be scanned electronically.
Retirement plans/IRAs: Report contributions to plans and IRAs, the value of accounts and distributions received on Forms 1099-R.
Rental properties: This requires records of income received and expenses paid in 2018, including amounts, dates and places.
State and local taxes (SALT): Recent legislation limits annual SALT deductions to $10,000 for 2018-2025, but itemizers still need relevant records of SALT payments, especially for their California tax return, which does not conform to Federal limitations.
Charitable donations: If you itemize, you generally need records for both monetary gifts and donations of property, plus appraisals for property valued above $5,000.
Mortgage interest: Itemizers must have Forms 1098 for mortgage interest on acquisition debts that remain deductible.
Medical expenses: Collect records and receipts for medical expenses that may push you above the “floor” of 7.5 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) for 2018.
Education expenses: Provide information required for claiming higher education credits, including Forms 1098-T.
Under the new legislation, you may not need records this year for miscellaneous expenses, many casualty and theft losses, moving expenses and home equity debts.
Please call, Shermin Tawni Alam of Alam Accountancy Corporation, PC at 408.445.1120 with questions about your particular tax situation.