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BINGO suspended at Gem Senior Center

The games have been suspended voluntarily by the Gem County Senior Community Center board after the organization lost its tax-exempt status.
Credit: Del Gray / Messenger Index
Sign on the door to the Emmett Senior Community Center.

What was supposed to be a night of playing BINGO at the Gem County Senior Community Center on Jan. 22, ended up being a meeting as to why the game has been shut down indefinitely in Emmett.

The BINGO games have been suspended voluntarily by the Gem County Senior Community Center board due to the fact that the organization has lost its tax-exempt, or 501(c)3 status.

While it came as a shock for both BINGO players and senior citizens alike, the shutdown was coming to a head for some time. How long the twice-a-week games are suspended is uncertain.

According to Gem County Senior Community Center President Pat Stewart, efforts have been underway since October to get the non-profit organization’s tax-exempt status restored.

“We received notice in August that our tax-exempt status had been revoked for failure to have filed form 990 for 2016, 2017 and 2018,” Stewart told the Messenger Index. “We immediately made contact with the IRS and filed in October with the understanding that the status would be automatically reinstated. They said they would contact us otherwise, if it was not reinstated.”

The organization which operates the Senior Community Center and its many programs – including the BINGO game — has received no official response from the IRS to date. The board was operating the center and the BINGO under the assumption that reinstatement had been granted, having not heard otherwise. A recent online check of their status, however, indicated that they were still in a revoked status.

“We have made many calls to the IRS in the last couple weeks and we can’t get the same answer twice,” Stewart said. “First they told us on the phone that they had not received the October filings. Then they said they got the paperwork but not a request for expediting the review so it had not been addressed yet. The letter to expedite was in the same package with the filing paperwork they say they received. Then they said they were behind due to the Federal shutdown.”

While awaiting the IRS to act on their request for reinstatement the organization’s board of directors determined that until it is confirmed as resolved, the BINGO games would need to be halted.

“We double-checked with the Idaho lottery,” Stewart said. “They confirmed that without the 501(c)3 status we would fall into a gambling definition under Idaho code.”

The rest of the operations at the Senior Center, including the noon meals Monday through Friday are unaffected by the tax form filing issues.

The 990 form in question is used to provide the public with financial information about a nonprofit organization. It is also used by government agencies to prevent organizations from abusing their tax-exempt status. This is not a tax reporting form but an informational form only. Since the reporting forms were not submitted for the 2016 and 2017 years, the late filing for 2018 triggered an automatic IRS revocation of the tax-exempt status.

Those in attendance at the Jan. 22 meeting at the Senior Center expressed concern about the circumstances – beyond the inconvenience of the BINGO suspension.

Michelle Schneider said it is concerning as to why these matters had not been addressed earlier. They had learned of the tax suspension in recent weeks from some online searching and not from the Senior Center itself.

“I had found 501c3lookup.org, a website that lets you see organizations in the community and their licensing.” Schneider said. “ When I saw that the center had not filed their 990 form for three consecutive years, letting me know that the BINGO being done was illegal, I was concerned. I went to the board meeting later that week and was asked to leave as it was an “executive meeting” — which had not been posted anywhere. When I saw they played on Friday, Jan. 17 after having all the information, I knew I needed to do something”, she said.

“We were simply trying to mitigate any future problems and keep the center from getting hit harder than it already is,” said Schneider. “If I was able to find this information out within a few hours, they should’ve been able to as well."

Stewart, speaking to the group gathered at the center on Wednesday, went on to make sure that people understood the board is trying to be proactive, instead of reactive. Making sure they are taking the necessary actions to get ahead of this and get themselves out of the hole they are currently in.

While BINGO brings in about half of the center’s monthly revenue, the board has a one to two month financial reserve as well as a $5,000 fund that the city sets aside for them yearly. They have yet to use the money from the city as the year just started, but it may turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the center.

A second level of concern regarding the loss of tax-exempt status is the potential that donors who made contributions to the the organization in 2016, 2017, and 2018 could actually lose the tax-deductibility of those contributions.

Stewart says that will not be a concern if the IRS reinstates that status which is its normal practice once all paperwork is completed and processed. If they have to reapply for a new status, that could be an issue for a limited number of those donors. She says that the offices of U.S. Senators James Risch and Mike Crapo have been contacted for assistance in dealing with the IRS.

Stewart says that the Idaho Lottery has confirmed that once the reinstatement is confirmed with the IRS, BINGO will return to Emmett. “Until then we are looking at other social activities like Bunco and different games we can play on those evenings. Hopefully it won’t be much longer,” Stewart said.

To follow the progress on resolution of the issues, Stewart said to check not only the senior center’s Facebook page but also the reader board outside the center.

The all-volunteer board meets at the Gem County Senior Center every second Monday at 1 p.m. Anyone is welcome to join.