Cal Poly’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic informs people about their tax rights and responsibilities as well as helps them get out of binds with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), free of charge.
[follow id = “Brenna_Swanston”]
Cal Poly’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) will head to Fresno tax court Feb. 3 as the only clinic from a non-law school program. At tax court, the LITC’s business administration students and lawyers will advise and represent community members struggling with tax-related issues.
Business administration senior Sara Cois runs outreach for the LITC and will accompany the clinic to Fresno next month. While the LITC’s lawyers are the only ones qualified to advise those attending tax court, Cois said she and the clinic’s other student participants will observe and assist in whatever way they can.
“We act as paralegals, basically,” Cois said. “Students can be there and be a part of the experience and help in simple matters.”
2014 marks the Cal Poly LITC’s second time participating in tax court. Before last year, undergraduate programs were not permitted to attend, but lawyer and Cal Poly LITC Director Lisa Sperow had the tax court law rewritten.
“We now have fourth-year accounting students doing what third-year law students are doing around the country,” Sperow said.
Locally, Cal Poly’s LITC informs people about their tax rights and responsibilities in addition to helping them get out of binds with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), free of charge.
“Our mission is to help low-income taxpayers who have problems with the IRS and to educate taxpayers,” Sperow said.
The LITC was established on Cal Poly’s campus in 2010, but the majority of its growth has taken place over the last two years, she said. When Sperow joined the LITC in October 2012, the clinic had only 20 clients. Now, it helps 46.
Cal Poly’s LITC is the only one in existence between San Jose and Los Angeles, so it assists clients from many different communities and backgrounds. Two characteristics bind all of its clients together: trouble with the IRS and a troubling personal past.
“They all have a sad story,” Sperow said. “A lot of them were victims of the recent economic downturn. They were people who lost their jobs, lost their houses. They were making money, but now they’re not.”
Cois said she loves working at the LITC because it allows her to help people who could not otherwise help themselves.
“We’re really able to make a difference in people’s lives because the people here really are low income,” Cois said. “For example, this one homeless guy came in, and the IRS was taking his social security. We were able to stop the IRS from taking his security.”
Financial and accounting graduate student Hannah Fliesler works as a student accountant for LITC. The clinic has saved over $580,000 for its clients over the past three years, she said.
The LITC’s biggest obstacle is getting the word out, Fliesler said..
“We get a lot of emails that say things like, ‘You’ve given me a new lease on life,’ or ‘You’ve saved me,” she said. “It’s nice that we give them a new beginning, and their financial slate is clean.”
The LITC is funded by a grant from the Taxpayer Advocate Service, a part of the IRS. The Cal Poly Orfalea College of Business then matches the grant amount.
Many people wonder, Sperow said, why the IRS funds a program which takes money away from the itself. The LITC actually takes pressure off the IRS because it provides competent representation to taxpayers who otherwise couldn’t afford it, she said.
“I think it really makes things easier for the IRS,” Sperow said.
Cal Poly’s LITC is primarily student-run, currently employing 16 undergraduate business administration students. The students have the option of working at the LITC for a quarter to complete their senior project, Sperow said, and many choose to continue working there afterward.
Correction: A quotation from Hannah Fliesler previously said participants told LITS the program gave them a new “leaf in life.” She actually said the participants said they’d received a new “lease on life.”