New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the state is expanding its network of free tax assistance sites, opening 80 new sites across the Empire State and offering 942 free sessions to New Yorkers, while also dedicating more money toward combating tax fraud.

Each free tax assistance site is staffed by State Department of Taxation and Finance tax experts who are available to assist low-income New Yorkers with electronically filing their 2014 taxes.

"By helping hard-working families and individuals file their taxes, we're ensuring that more people can get their taxes done on time and accurately," Cuomo said in a statement Thursday. "We want to help cut down on confusion—and by enhancing free access at dozens of key assistance centers across the state, more families and individuals can maximize their refund."

The move comes amid continuing cutbacks by the Internal Revenue Service due to budget cuts that are limiting the availability of customer service. On Wednesday, the IRS announced that it would begin testing the use of appointments at 10 of its Taxpayer Assistance Centers (see IRS Begins Testing Appointments for Taxpayer Service).

The free tax preparation service is available to New York individuals and families who earned less than $60,000 in 2014. The state said that appointments are recommended, but walk-ins are accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. Select sites offer staff who can speak foreign languages including Chinese, Spanish or Russian.

More than 70 percent of New York taxpayers hire tax preparers, but the free tax assistance is expected to help more New Yorkers fulfill their tax responsibilities.

"To support taxpayers statewide, we have more than 200 employee volunteers helping New Yorkers do their taxes accurately and at no cost,” said Department of Taxation and Finance Executive Deputy Commissioner Nonie Manion. “Not only do taxpayers prepare their taxes for free, but they'll learn how to do it themselves for future years."

Locations for the state's free electronic filing assistance may be found by calling the Department of Taxation and Finance at 518-457-5181 or online here.

The IRS and AARP also offer a directory of certified volunteers at more than 800 sites to help prepare taxes for taxpayers uncomfortable using a computer. The free service is available to individuals and families earning $53,000 or less. A list of preparers is available here.

While expanding free taxpayer assistance, New York State is also dedicating more funds to crack down on tax fraud. Also on Thursday, Cuomo announced that 28 district attorneys’ offices will receive more than $14.7 million in grants to enhance their investigation of state tax evasion and welfare fraud cases. Prosecutors in five counties will receive grants for the first time, while 23 others will receive funding to continue their work to crack down on individuals and businesses who fail to pay taxes or commit fraud.

“Our administration will not tolerate people who try to cheat their way out of tax obligations or defraud our welfare system,” said Cuomo. “People who evade taxes or commit welfare crimes are stealing from hard-working taxpayers. By providing this funding, we’re helping to end this kind of abuse and hold individuals and businesses accountable.”

District attorneys’ offices will receive the grants through the state’s Crimes Against Revenue Program, which is funded by the proceeds from investigations that result in tax revenues, fines and restitution being returned to the state. More than $165 million has been returned to the state since the program began in 2004, which is an 81 percent increase over the $91 million in grants provided to district attorneys’ offices during the past decade.

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