Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Reaches Major Milestones

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The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) at Cal Poly, which provides student-assisted legal representation, education and outreach services to low-income taxpayers facing significant tax bills from the IRS, celebrated a number of victories in 2015. Last year alone, the clinic saved its clients $1 million in fines and fees, the most it ever has in a single year. The program has seen tremendous growth since its inception in 2010, filing more than 32 cases with the U.S. Tax Court and providing Learn by Doing opportunities to over 210 student accountants.

“The LITC is very unique because they entrust Cal Poly students with handling client cases,” says Stephanie Tomovich, a student who worked at the clinic in the spring of 2015. “[The project] enabled me to apply the knowledge I have gained to make a difference for members of the community.”

A recent success story involved a single mother of four who had been the victim of domestic violence. When her abusive husband died, she found herself facing a $126,000 IRS liability based on misstatements he had made on their tax returns related to his sole proprietorship.  Under the supervision of Orfalea College of Business faculty, students at the LITC used equitable arguments to have her liability reduced to zero, and she instead received an offsets refund check for $16,900 –an amount higher than her annual salary.

This victory put Cal Poly’s LITC over the $2 million mark in liabilities it has saved its clients since 2010. As of October, the LITC had saved its clients a total of $2,205,702.63

2-TaxCourt“One of the most rewarding aspects of running the clinic is seeing the reactions of the clients and the students when we win an important victory,” says Lisa Sperow, the executive director for the program and an accounting lecturer at Cal Poly. “The client’s relief and joy is contagious! It is also a good feeling to know that you have helped secure some justice to a person who has suffered a great deal of injustice in their life.”

The IRS also recently awarded the Cal Poly LITC a Taxpayer Advocate Service (TAS) grant for 2016. The TAS program has recognized Cal Poly’s efforts with a steadily increasing grant every year that the clinic has been in operation. The 2016 grant money will be used to accommodate a higher number of clients and support even more undergraduate senior projects. The clinic has also purchased new computers for students to use. It will also allow the clinic to attend a calendar call for the Federal Tax Court in Fresno, Calif., something it has attended since 2011. Of all the university attendees, Cal Poly continues to be the only non-law school present at the event.

Looking ahead for the LITC, Sperow says that the clinic can continue to grow through partnerships in the community, on campus and with alumni.

“We are always looking for opportunities to provide programs on the rights and responsibilities of taxpayers,” says Sperow. “We also would like to have more alumni and community members involved as Pro Bono Panel members to help work with the students and oversee cases.”

For more information about the LITC or to get involved with the program, contact Lisa Sperow at esperow@calpoly.edu.