December 18, 2008
Volunteers with Varied Backgrounds Sought by Community Tax Law Project and its Affiliate Programs
another way citizen lawyers can help Virginians stabilize family finances in downturn
At the beginning of each calendar year, the National Taxpayer Advocate delivers an annual report to Congress. The national advocate heads the Taxpayer Advocate Service, an independent organization within the Internal Revenue Service that assists taxpayers who are experiencing economic harm or who seek resolution of tax policy matters or outstanding tax problems.
A new report with priorities for 2008-09 will be issued in late December but last January’s explained that most taxpayers who file returns are entitled to receive refunds and that when their refunds are delayed, they may experience financial hardship. The average refund for taxpayers who claim the earned income tax credit (EITC) is more than $3,000 – about 20 percent of their yearly income. According to National Taxpayer Advocate and VSB member, Nina Olson, refund delays can mean “eviction, inability to pay the high heating bills that arise during winter, or defaulting on credit card bills from the holiday season.” http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-utl/arc_2007_vol_2.pdf
The report also elaborated on the insolvency exception that permits cancellation of indebtedness income from short sales and other canceled-debt situations. Obviously, with the increasing economic hardship stemming from mortgage foreclosures and job losses now facing even more low to moderate-income Virginians, timely help with tax issues affecting major family finances could make the difference between security or stability and impoverishment.
Prior to her appointment as National Taxpayer Advocate, Olson founded and directed the Richmond-based Community Tax Law Project (CTLP), a 501(c)(3) operating statewide with a national reputation whose volunteers were recognized in 2001 with the bar’s Lewis F. Powell Jr. Pro Bono Award.
CTLP’s operations are partially funded through an appropriation to the State Bar from the Virginia General Assembly. CTLP offers its volunteers legal malpractice insurance, assistance with case intake and monitoring and substantive CLE training. A major part of their mission is to encourage taxpayer compliance, including client diversion from the cash (underground) or shadow economy — something that may become increasingly critical.
Tax attorneys, accountants, and enrolled agents with an interest in negotiation and litigation will feel at home visiting the pro bono page of this now 15 year-old program, http://www.ctlp.org/probono.html . Attorneys with other practice backgrounds and law students curious about ways to help the working poor and elderly Virginians cope with the economic downturn can visit the same page to volunteer with CTLP or find links to affiliate taxpayer assistance programs.