Access to Justice Series: Jane Becker, Tax Attorney
Our federal tax system has, as its foundation, intricate laws not meant for middle and lower income taxpayers to easily comprehend (I’m not espousing Marxist philosophy, this is just the way it is.) This includes the laws themselves, the required forms to report income, and the manner in which revenues are collected. In a word, both substantively and procedurally, our federal tax system is very difficult to navigate.
Over the last few years, the IRS, which is woefully understaffed and underfunded, has shifted its auditing programs from in office, face to face meetings, to correspondence audits, where the taxpayer is asked to respond to areas of a return the Service finds questionable (unreported income which has been reported to the IRS, the use of the Earned Income Tax Credit, meant to help low-income taxpayers etc.) At least 50% of correspondence audits are targeted to low and lower middle-income taxpayers. Many years ago, waitresses and child care providers were audit targets, it’s a similar concept.
The services available for such taxpayers, which do exist, are not comprehensive or easily accessible. There are Low Income Taxpayer Clinics (LITC) across the country that offer pro bono representation, these are usually (meagerly) funded by IRS grants. There are several in Los Angeles and San Diego, and a few in the Bay Area. There are also similar programs offered by some law schools, in which students represent low-income taxpayers who have found themselves in a system that is batting them around like a cat would a mouse. They are often very successful in getting good results. Unfortunately, there are not enough of these programs.
We need to do more.
Attorney at Law
1537 Pacific Avenue, Ste. 201
Santa Cruz, CA 95060