Law students volunteer to help local citizens file taxes

Kristin Buchanan

staff Writer

Some people spent spring break in Cancun while others braved the weather in South Padre Island.

Hundreds of volunteers from the UH Law Center spent their time at church.

St. Martin's Lutheran Church was just one of the 79 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program sites open throughout spring break, in addition to every weekend from February 7 until April 11.

For 27 years the VITA program has provided service to the low income, non-English speaking, elderly and disabled taxpayers in the community.

The IRS started the organization to have volunteers on hand to help those faced with difficulties in filling out their tax forms.

VITA's main focus is on the community, and the taxpayers who have taken advantage of this organization range anywhere from high school students to entire families.

In 1977, the American Bar Association adopted VITA as a means of fulfilling the requirements for pro bono, or free, legal services.

In 1995, approximately 6,000 law students volunteered to help 70,000 taxpayers. They were part of the 48,000 total volunteers who assisted 1.5 million taxpayers in all.

These numbers are still growing today, with the ever increasing eagerness of volunteers.

Volunteers fulfill duties such as completing entire tax forms for eligible members of the community, answering specific questions about taxes and helping people minimize their taxes. Through this program, the volunteers learn to do taxes and to apply tax laws learned in their many years of studies to real life situations.

To qualify as a volunteer, students must take a 24-hour IRS training program and pass a test at the end of the course.

Tom Cane, founder of the UH Law Center's VITA program, teaches this training program and has been involved with VITA for eight years now.

His chapter, located at St. Martin's Lutheran Church in Bellaire, is currently the closest location to UH.

"I chose this site to be more convenient for students, since there are no on-campus sites," Cane said.

His chapter alone has helped 488 taxpayers this year. According to Cane, being involved in the VITA program has many rewards, such as "the satisfaction of being able to help people and to give back to the community."

Those still in need of guidance in filling out tax forms can seek help through April 11.

This VITA chapter will be available for tax assistance from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Martin's Lutheran Church, located at 9550 Bellaire Blvd.

Other organizations in the law center offer outreach programs sponsored both by the UH Law Center and specific organizations. For information on these programs call the Community Outreach Progam Office at (713)743-2168

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