A Lifeline for Our Clients

While the IRS and Maryland Comptroller’s Office closed to the public for a substantial period in 2020 and 2021 because of the pandemic, MVLS Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Director, Janice Shih, quickly recognized that Marylanders who were most in need of receiving the economic impact payments were those most at risk of not securing these life-saving funds. The stimulus checks were essential to our client’s stability, but thousands of Marylanders who needed the payments the most were at risk of not receiving them.

Here’s what we were up against:

  • Someone with a very low income doesn’t have to file taxes each year. As a result, the IRS didn’t have mailing addresses for those with very little to no income.
  • The stimulus payments were initially issued as direct deposits, but because of disinvestment in many communities of color, many low-income neighborhoods don’t have access to banks.
  • Stimulus checks were mailed in blank envelopes with no indication of what they were, leading many individuals to not opening the envelopes or throwing them away believing it was a scam.

MVLS’ LITC led an enormous outreach effort, focusing on legal services programs and community programs. For months, the LITC provided important information about how to obtain the stimulus payments and how to ensure individuals who didn’t file 2018 or 2019 taxes would receive these essential funds. Our outreach even included interviews with WBAL and Maryland Public Television to highlight these important issues.

“We were a life-line for clients at a time when the IRS was closed. It was so reassuring to have someone to just answer the phone and listen to their situation and get helpful information.” – Janice Shih, Low Income Taxpayer Clinic Director 

Our LITC then launched Maryland’s only tax-hotline to help people navigate the process of filing a basic tax return with the IRS so they could receive these critical funds and to assist desperate individuals who hadn’t received their stimulus funds. “We were a life-line for clients at a time when the IRS was closed. It was so reassuring to have someone to just answer the phone and listen to their situation and get helpful information,” Janice explained. Because many of our clients don’t have access to computers and places where they would normally access computers, like public libraries, were closed, Janice and LITC volunteers would often walk through the process with an individual and then file the returns for the client to eliminate the digital divide barrier. With long delays by the IRS, the LITC continues to work with individuals seeking their stimulus funds.

The MVLS Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) works with anyone who has tax issues with the Comptroller of Maryland or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). MVLS was one of the first organizations to offer LITC 20 years ago and operates one of the three LITC that exist in our state today. LITC clients are at or below 250% of the federal poverty level, which is about $15.00 or less per hour in Maryland. While tax controversy is a specialized legal practice, lawyers and tax professionals like Certified Public Accountants (CPA’s) and Enrolled Agents (EA’s) assist clients with resolving tax disputes with these agencies.

To learn more about volunteering with MVLS LITC, visit: www.mvlslaw.org/volunteer-tax-representative-registration/