Dolton couple gets more than $2K in property tax exemptions thanks to ABC7 phone bank

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Thursday will be ABC7's last phone bank of the year in partnership with Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas. The treasurer's office still has more than $100 million of unclaimed tax refunds and exemptions.

While anyone in Cook County can call to see if they're owed money, these phone banks have a special focus on reaching the Black and Latino communities.

RELATED | Maria Pappas and ABC 7 Chicago to host 'Black and Latino Houses Matter' Phone Bank Thursday

Stanley and Sonja Smith have been living in their Dolton home for years.

"Sixteen years, and every year the property taxes have gone up," Stanley Smith said. "It's not something you can automatically prepare for."

A few months ago, the Smiths were watching ABC 7 and learned about our phone bank with the Cook County Treasurer, where property owners were finding out if they were owed hundreds - even thousands - of dollars in tax refunds and exemptions.

"So I said to my wife, 'Hey baby, I want to call and just see what happens. Maybe we missed something,'" Stanley Smith said.

A lot of people have missed something in their taxes, to the tune of more than $100 million. Treasurer Maria Pappas says that money is just sitting around, waiting to be claimed.

"Either a homeowner exemption, a senior exemption or a senior freeze that they forgot to claim or they have up to $79 million in refunds," Pappas said.

It's an outreach program that Treasurer Pappas started last year. More than 37,000 properties were in jeopardy of being sold due to unpaid property taxes, and those homes were headed straight for the tax sale list. Most of the homes with delinquent properties were in Black and Latino neighborhoods within Cook County.

But many of the homeowners who owe money never applied for their exemptions, meaning the county actually owes them money.

"We're helping people get off this list," Pappas said. "We're saving homes. We're about generational wealth and this is the holiday season so what better time... to make people happy."

The Smiths went ahead and gave the phone bank a try, and boy are they glad they did, because this couple missed their senior freeze exemption and were owed money!

Their check came in the mail a few weeks later.

"I looked at it and said, 'Okay, this is a real check!'" Sonja Smith said. "Couldn't ask for anything more."

That couple said their furnace is in need of repair, so this money came right on time.

To find out if you are owed a tax refund or exemption, call the phone bank on Thursday, Dec. 9 from 11 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The number is (312) 603-5105.
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