January 11, 1999
IRS Pursues Legal Help
for Low-Income Taxpayers
WASHINGTON - The Internal Revenue Service is moving forward
with plans to expand the availability of legal assistance to
low-income taxpayers across the nation.
The new IRS project will provide $2 million this year through
the Low-income Taxpayer Clinic grant program, designed to help
organizations provide low-cost legal assistance in tax disputes.
Qualifying clinics also can inform people who use English as a
second language about their tax rights and responsibilities.
Under the IRS's matching grant program, groups operating these
independent taxpayer clinics can qualify for up to $100,000. In
anticipation of the program's start, the IRS unveiled a draft
version of the grant application package on Monday and is seeking
public comment through Feb. 27.
"Encouraging the growth of low-income taxpayer clinics is one
of our top priorities," said Charles Rossotti, Commissioner of
Internal Revenue. "These clinics reach out to taxpayers who may have
no other way to afford legal help."
For many low-income taxpayers, money problems can block their
ability to get legal help when they encounter serious tax problems.
But more than a dozen taxpayer legal clinics are in operation to
help people navigate the tax system on issues ranging from advice on
responding to an IRS notice to assistance on tax disputes that reach
The clinics may be run by a variety of organizations, including
law, business or accounting schools -- whose students represent
taxpayers in tax disputes with the IRS or in the courts -- or by
tax-exempt organizations that represent taxpayers or refer taxpayers
to qualified representatives. Taxpayers using the clinics may pay a
small fee for the legal help.
To assist these clinics and encourage the development of new
clinics, Congress and President Clinton approved a tax clinic
program last year. The IRS is authorized to award organizations
matching grants of up to $100,000 a year to develop, expand or
continue low-income taxpayer clinics.
As an initial step, the IRS is seeking public comment on its
draft version of the grant application package, including how much
low-income taxpayers should pay for clinic services. The IRS web site
at www.irs.ustreas.gov has copies.
When the grant application package is finalized this spring, it
will set in motion a series of events. Clinics can apply to the IRS
for matching funds, with awards granted this summer.
Among the factors that WI be considered in the grant process
are the clinic program's quality of service, the number of
low-income taxpayers served and how many people in the clinic's
service area use English as a second language.
"These clinics fit in with our goal of improving service to
taxpayers," Rossotti said. "We want people to be able to resolve
problems with the IRS quickly and easily. But if for some reason
they can't, these clinics provide low-income taxpayers with an
affordable way to find legal assistance."
Rossotti said the clinics mesh with the new IRS mission of
providing "America's taxpayers top quality service by helping them
understand and meet their tax responsibilities by applying the tax
law with integrity and fairness to all."
"We want everyone to be able to get help, regardless of their
income," Rossotti said.
The IRS has been helping low-income taxpayers for years through
such programs as the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) and Tax
Counseling for the Elderly (TCE).
"We have programs in place to assist people with their tax
returns and tax questions, but the tax clinic concept goes one step
further," said Marilyn Soulsburg, IRS Assistant Commissioner for
Customer Service. "We hope to see more low-income taxpayer clinics
in the months ahead. We want taxpayers across the nation to have the
same opportunity to get help."
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