CLS Students Volunteer as Low-Income Tax Preparers

CLS Students Volunteer as Low-Income Tax Preparers
Turning The Earned Income Tax Credit Into Cash For New York City
Press contact: Erin St. John Kelly [email protected]
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April 10, 2008 (NEW YORK) – For the third year, nearly two dozen Columbia Law School students are working as tax preparers for low-income filers. Some do it because Columbia requires pro bono work for graduation, some do it because they just “like numbers,” others because they like helping people, but all are contributing to the economic health of New York City’s poor and their neighborhoods.
"From a legal and teaching perspective it is of benefit to the students with interests in financial or tax law, even those who are likely to go into corporate careers, for them to see how laws work and how they impact actual lives," said Adrienne FitzGerald, Associate Director of Pro Bono Programs, Center for Public Interest Law at Columbia Law School. And she said the volunteer tax preparation program helps in the immediate neighborhood of the school. "Columbia wants to contribute to the economic stability of Harlem."
The tax help is offered through FoodChange, a New York City-based non-profit that not only works to end hunger but is also the largest non-military free tax preparer in the U.S. Last year it completed 42,000 returns, securing refunds of more than $80 million – putting that money into the city’s economy. According to FoodChange, the average return is $2,153.
This year 22 Columbia Law students are working to file and to dispel many tax time terrors for their clients. There is a prevailing belief that if you don’t make very much money there’s no reason to file, but they must to get the Earned Income Tax Credit, a subsidy to the working poor. There is also a general mistrust of the system and of tax preparers because many of the clients have been taken advantage of by disreputable preparers.
“It’s a confusing area for a lot of people,” said Tyler Ladner, a second-year student, who worked last year at FoodChange’s Harlem site. And he said, there was something in all this for him too: “I learned a lot about doing my own taxes!” he said.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School joins traditional strengths in international and comparative law, constitutional law, administrative law, business law and human rights law with pioneering work in the areas of intellectual property, digital technology, sexuality and gender, and criminal law.