April 15 is just around the corner and this time of year can be stressful, especially for low-income Americans. They may fall victim to exploitation by commercial tax preparers charging unduly high fees for their services. Many also face obstacles when claiming their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which provides them and their families a refundable tax credit based on earnings and number of children. There are numerous ways that pro bono lawyers can get involved during tax season and all year long to help low-income taxpayers.
2. Sponsor a year-round tax clinic for low-income business owners or for particularly vulnerable populations who may be eligible for pro bono assistance, such as the elderly, the chronically ill, veterans, or the homeless.
3. Research federal and state tax rules that seem to disproportionately burden vulnerable populations. For example, Appleseed worked with White and Case*† to prepare All Work and No Pay, a report that examines the income-documentation requirements that frequently prevent low-income, self-employed workers and cash earners from claiming their EITC.
4. Advocate for changes in tax regulations. Hunton and Williams*† litigated a pro bono tax case that resulted in a policy change that gives thousands of taxpayers a chance to avoid the tax burdens incurred by a former spouse, an important development for low-income tax payers, especially victims of domestic violence.
5. Represent low-income individuals in tax court. Your efforts can help them achieve more favorable settlements, or even avoid undue liability entirely.
What pro bono projects are you working on to help low-income taxpayers? Tell us about it in the comments below.
* denotes a Signatory to the Law Firm Pro Bono Challenge®
† denotes a Member of the Law Firm Pro Bono Project