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Pay for Your Poisoning: East Palestine Residents to be Taxed on Disaster Reimbursements Despite Norfolk Southern Assuring Them Otherwise
“When I asked Norfolk why I needed to fill out the tax form (W-9), they responded ‘it is only for our tax write offs, it doesn’t affect you,'" East Palestine resident Krissy Ferguson tells Status Coup
As East Palestine residents and families continue to suffer physical and mental health symptoms two months after the East Palestine train derailment and “controlled burn”—and many continue temporarily living out of hotels with their children and pets—residents are now shocked to discover they will be taxed on the derailment-related reimbursement money they are receiving from Norfolk Southern.
A shock that stings because, according to several residents Status Coup spoke to, Norfolk Southern officials assured them of the exact opposite.
Krissy Ferguson, whose home is right above the heavily contaminated Sulphur Run creek—that has caused it to reek of chemicals for two months—told Status Coup: “When I asked Norfolk why I needed to fill out the tax form (W-9), they responded ‘it is only for our tax write offs, it doesn’t affect you.’”
Since the derailment, Ferguson’s tongue has tingled and gone numb, she’s developed pressure-type headaches, and experienced heaviness in her chest.
Soon after the derailment, Ferguson and other residents were forced to wait in long lines at Norfolk Southern’s Family Assistance Center to receive reimbursements for hotel stays, along with other expenses, forced upon them after Norfolk Southern’s train exploded in their small village. They were told to fill out W-9 forms, but according to several residents who spoke to Status Coup, assured that those forms were merely for the railroad company’s tax purposes—and that residents would not be taxed on any reimbursement funds.
“When I was handed a W-9 the first day I went to the NS assistance center, I questioned why I had to fill the form,” Jami Wallace, an East Palestine resident and former HR director, told Status Coup.
Wallace, whose front door was just steps from the contaminated Sulphur Run creek, continued:
“I asked directly if reimbursements were taxed. The gentleman assured me it was for Norfolk Southern tax purposes. I was an HR director for years and knew I was being lied to, but without the reimbursement, I didn't have enough money for another night at the hotel. At this point, lies don't surprise me anymore.”
Wallace, 46, has been experiencing upper respiratory issues since the derailment and “controlled burn.” In addition, she has suffered with nausea, tingling lips and tongues, and even lost her voice for a week after aeration machines pumping contaminants next to her home blew around her home. Her three-year-old daughter has had upper respiratory problems since the derailment happened.
Zsuzsa Gyenes, whose asthmatic nine-year-old son projectile vomited, and experienced full body shakes, after the February 3rd train derailment, has been temporarily staying at a hotel with her son since the derailment. When she has returned to her home several times, the chemical stench overwhelmed her, causing headaches, eye irritation, and other symptoms.
When she filled out the W-9 form at Norfolk Southern’s reimbursement center, she too was told that she would not be taxed on reimbursement funds.
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“Brandon [Norfolk Southern Representative] continued to tell me no one would get taxed whatsoever and it was only for Norfolk’s tax purposes,” Gyenes told Status Coup. “He explained that they have their own insurance and it would be paid for by Norfolk either way. The very first time I went, I signed the W-9 and I was told I wouldn’t be taxed on it.”
Since the derailment and “controlled burn,” Gyenes, 31, has been experiencing a slew of health symptoms: headaches, nausea, teeth pain, dizziness, disorientation, heavy/tight chest, numbness and tingling in her lips, tongue, arms, and hands, body aches, sharp pains in her neck and rib cage. On top of these, fatigue has overwhelmed her. Her nine-year-old son has developed body rashes along with vomiting.
Status Coup asked Norfolk Southern why residents were being taxed on reimbursement funds for the relocation none of them wanted.
An official from Norfolk Southern confirmed to Status Coup that the company had residents fill out W9 forms in order for them to pay taxes on the reimbursement money.
“The IRS requires Norfolk Southern to collect a W-9 for all payments, and Norfolk Southern will send a 1099 to residents receiving over $600,” the official said. “Norfolk Southern is not able to provide recommendations or advice to residents regarding their taxes.”
When Status Coup followed up on the fact that several residents alleged that company officials had assured them that the W-9 they were filling out was for Norfolk Southern’s tax purposes, and that the residents wouldn’t be taxed on the reimbursement money, the Norfolk Southern official did not respond.
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