Southwestern Students Assist Low-Income Tax Filers
With one week left in the current tax season, Southwestern's Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Program has completed 180 tax returns for L.A. residents, already surpassing the previous year, in which it filed 130 tax returns. In response to the program's popularity, the Tax Law Society is operating two VITA sites this year: one at Southwestern (on the fourth floor of the Westmoreland building in the Legal Clinic space) and the other at Neighborhood Legal Services in El Monte. Twenty Southwestern students passed the IRS mandated test (allowing them to provide this tax filing service) and volunteer their Saturdays to participate in the program.
VITA aids the elderly and low income families and Southwestern students provide assistance in English and Spanish. There is an income soft cap of approximately $45,000 per year, per family. The program is only for personal income taxes (state and federal).
Mark Garelick '07 re-established Southwestern's VITA three years ago, and Albert DiMarco, current President of Southwestern's Tax Law Society, has spearheaded the program the past two years. "At the end of the day, VITA really isn't about taxes, it's about public service," DiMarco said. "When you can look in the eyes of a woman with three kids who made $15,000 last year and tell her that she's getting $4,000 dollars back from the government and see her reaction, it makes it all worth it. That $4,000 is food on the table, new shoes, it's a variety of things that were once out of reach ... And that's why I've been running this club for two years, through finals, term papers and the avalanche of work that law school entails."
Clients either walk in or call for an appointment. Abby Collins, Vice President of the Tax Law Society, coordinates the scheduling for the Southwestern site. A 1-800 number that the Internal Revenue Service advertises is transferred to Southwestern or people show up at the campus and ask for VITA. The appointments are scheduled for the upcoming weekend. VITA also has referrals and repeat customers from previous years.
"The most successful part of VITA is dealing with the people, our clients, who come in and need assistance," DiMarco said. "Many people are intimidated or confused by taxes and deal with the issue by not filing, or paying a healthy sum for a paid service. We take away that fear and give people the refunds they deserve for free."