Houston College of Law Establishes Low-Income
With a new $43,000 grant from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Houston College of Law recently established a pro bono, Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) to educate Houstonians on tax issues and help them resolve tax problems. The LITC can help a wide variety of people, including those who have a tax question, those who have received a letter from the IRS and are not sure how to proceed, and those who owe back taxes but are unable to pay them.
Staff and students in the LITC will serve taxpayers in the Greater Houston region, including those in Brazoria, Fort Bend, Harris, and Montgomery Counties. This geographic area is home to approximately 5.7 million individuals, two million of whom live at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
Among these residents, 43 percent are Hispanic or Latino, 7 percent are Asian, and 39 percent speak a language other than English at home. For this reason, the LITC also will target the large Spanish-speaking populations in the region, as well as other international communities, such as Asian populations speaking Vietnamese, Mandarin, and Hindi. To reach these residents, the LITC will work closely with community agencies that currently partner with the law school’s 16 other clinics, including those that address immigration, civil practice issues, and domestic violence.
To qualify for assistance in the LITC, taxpayers must have an annual income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, which equates to $29,700 per year for an individual, and $60,750 per year for a family of four. Potential clients can seek LITC assistance by calling the special toll-free number, 1-800-646-1253, or emailing the law school at firstname.lastname@example.org. The LITC at Houston College of Law will operate year-round, closing only for school holidays. Clinic hours are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.
The law students enrolled in the LITC have all completed a course in federal income taxation and participate in a weekly classroom component in which they become familiar with tax procedure and the possible paths that a tax controversy might take. They also work on skills that allow them to serve Houstonians in need of their assistance. Eight students currently are enrolled in the LITC.
The law school recently hired a new LITC staff attorney, Jeff Gold, who will work closely with the Clinic Director, Professor Bruce McGovern, who also serves as associate dean at Houston College of Law. Under their direction, law students will assist clients in negotiating with IRS examining agents, filing protests with IRS Appeals and negotiating with appeals officers, and preparing and filing petitions with the U.S. Tax Court. In appropriate cases, staff and students will seek collection due-process hearings and assist clients with installment agreements.
“There is a significant need in the Houston-metro area for pro bono tax assistance and the types of services Houston College of Law’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic will provide,” said McGovern. “This valuable IRS grant will enable our staff and students to extend essential, hands-on support for low-income Houston taxpayers, and – at the same time – equip law students with real-world lawyering skills and experience.”
In addition to working one-on-one with clients in the clinic, Houston College of Law staff and students will deliver educational presentations on topics pertaining to low-income and English-as-a-second-language taxpayers. These seminars will be held off-campus at community centers and other locations and will address issues such as tax filing requirements and deadlines, record-keeping, deductions, identity theft, tax rules for immigrants, the collections process, the earned taxpayer credit, and the Taxpayer Bill of Rights.
“I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to participate in Houston College of Law’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic,” said Hannah Craft, a third-year student at the law school. “The clinic is an amazing opportunity – especially for a law student with a full-time job who is unable to participate in conventional legal internships – to gain real-world experience in tax research and controversy. Through the LITC, I am able to provide assistance to those less fortunate in my community and develop valuable, practical legal skills prior to graduation.”
Students in Houston College of Law’s Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic