Georgia State’s Tax Clinic Gives Georgia’s Low-Income Taxpayers a Fresh Start
By W. Edward Afield, Director, Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic and Associate Clinical Professor of Law, Georgia State University College of Law
Often overlooked in broader conversations about improving access to justice is the importance of improving access for taxpayers to a just administration of federal tax laws. Given the tax code’s complexity, and how federal anti-poverty initiatives are administered through the tax code, low-income taxpayers are often at risk of not being able to navigate this system.
Repeated budget cuts to the IRS have caused dramatic rollbacks in services that the government can provide to taxpayers to help them take advantage of benefits they are entitled to under the tax code. Those services help low-income taxpayers make sure they are not forced to pay more taxes than required and what they can realistically afford.
In its 26th year, Georgia State University College of Law’s Philip C. Cook Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic has been working to address this need for the low-income taxpayers of Georgia. Since its inception, the clinic has provided pro bono representation to thousands of low-income taxpayers, saving them millions of dollars of tax liability through the work of almost 1,000 student attorneys.
The clinic’s motto is “Education Through Service,” and it accomplishes its mission through client representation, community outreach and advocacy for systemic change.
Through client representation performed by law students, the clinic provides pro bono legal service to help clients protect their rights either in the U.S. Tax Court or in the IRS’s collection procedures. Clinic representatives are often able to prove their clients are entitled to certain benefits under the tax code or help their clients settle tax liabilities for low or nominal amounts by demonstrating their clients cannot afford to pay the liabilities.
The clinic successfully concluded its second Pro Bono Day with the IRS chief counsel’s Atlanta office, where the IRS and clinic representatives are available on two Saturdays during the year to resolve cases for unrepresented taxpayers who have imminent court dates at Tax Court.
Through its educational outreach efforts, the clinic speaks to community groups and makes presentations about the rights available to and compliance obligations for low-income taxpayers, including taxpayers who speak English as a second language.
The clinic engages in systemic advocacy, often in coordination with the Taxpayer Advocate Service and National Taxpayer Advocate, when it detects aspects of the Internal Revenue Code or IRS practice that overly burdens low-income taxpayers. The clinic also will weigh in on cases around the country that have issues that could affect low-income taxpayers, as it has recently done in collaboration with the Harvard Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic.
Through this work the clinic helps taxpayers avoid becoming financially incapacitated by tax liabilities they can no longer afford, or that they do not legitimately owe, and that carry with them the threat of significant financial loss because of the IRS’s sweeping collection powers. Such powers include home foreclosure, wage garnishment and asset levies. Often these tax liabilities are obstacles to the taxpayer reentering the workforce because the presence of tax liens can disqualify individuals from certain types of employment.
The clinic also helps taxpayers take advantage of a variety of benefits written into the tax code, such as the earned income taxpayer credit, generally viewed as the most successful federal anti-poverty initiative that exists. There are also other benefits that are in the tax code, including the premium tax credit for the Affordable Care Act and benefits related to the care of disabled people.
The clinic is one of only two tax clinics in Georgia and endeavors to help taxpayers statewide. Learn more here or contact the clinic at 404-413-9230.