By Georges Budagu Makoko
Ntakumi yigize is a saying in Kinyamulenge, my language, that translates to “No one can ever claim to be self-sufficient or self-reliant. We all need each other.”
Every new year in the U.S. brings another tax season. State and federal tax returns are filed in mid-April, so from January until the deadline, most people have taxes on their minds. For the American-born, the concept of paying taxes is very familiar. But immigrants may have come from countries where they never had to pay taxes, so they may need help from their employers to make sure they do not inadvertently violate U.S. state and federal tax regulations, which are enforced.
In 2002, when I arrived in the U.S. and got my first job, I had no idea how taxes work or why we should pay them. I didn’t know that here in the U.S., taxes actually help fund useful services such as road maintenance, schools, police forces, fire houses, health services, libraries, and Social Security. I also didn’t know that 24 cents of every tax dollar goes to the military. In fact, if it had not been for a friend of mine who had been living in Maine a while, I would not have realized I needed to file a tax return at all. I remember being shocked to see the net pay that remained after taxes were withheld each payday that first year. I am sure many new arrivals experience the same kind of confusion I did over 20 years ago.
Children born in the U.S. grow up knowing that some of the money they earn will go to taxes, and some will be used to improve their daily lives. They see from a young age that when they buy something in a store, sales tax is added to the cost. When they are teenagers, and have their first jobs, they experience seeing their paychecks reflect withholdings, and many learn to file their year-end tax returns quite young. But people who arrive here as immigrants don’t have all this background.
I encourage all employers to take time to offer specific training to their immigrant employees so they can understand the rules about taxes, and avoid common pitfalls. New residents may not realize the intricacies of our system on their own, but employers who take extra time to help their employees understand the system, and the forms they need to fill out, will in effect be helping Maine build a stronger and more productive society that we can all be proud of, and benefit from.