Karen Maxim and The Bronx Defenders’ New Tax Clinic are Making an Impact

People who most need relief during tax season are routinely victimized by exploitative tax preparers who, lacking regulation, target poor people and charge exorbitant rates, a problem highlighted in a recent New York Times article. Individuals end up with much reduced tax refunds as a result of the tax preparers’ high fees or are penalized by the IRS when tax preparers claim credits for which the family is not in fact eligible.

Keenly aware of this issue and its direct impact on many of The Bronx Defenders’ clients, last year three Bronx Defenders attorneys decided to do something about it. After raising their concerns and articulating a plan for action with The Bronx Defenders senior management, they got The Bronx Defenders registered with the IRS to become an official VITA tax preparation site. Eight Bronx Defenders staff completed many hours of IRS training to become certified tax preparers in order to provide this much needed assistance to clients at the new Bronx Defenders “tax clinic.” The tax clinic opened its door to clients on an appointment-only basis in February 2014. As April 15th drew near, the tax clinic expanded its assistance with three open hour sessions to allow more clients to access this service.

Thus far the tax clinic has helped 32 people, prepared 57 returns, and obtained more than $57,000 in refunds. Our clients have benefitted immensely. One such recipient of this support was a Bronx Defenders client about to be evicted from her home. Our client, a federal employee, fell into rent arrears when she lost wages due to the federal government shut down and furlough. She came to the tax clinic two days before her scheduled eviction. At the clinic, Karen Maxim, a Civil Action Practice attorney and founder of the tax clinic, prepared and filed the client’s returns, secured her a $5,000 refund, ran to Housing Court with copies of the tax return and order to show cause, and the judge postponed the eviction!

The tax clinic has put tens of thousands of dollars back into our communities and has provided essential relief to our clients. By leveraging the project’s success and client interest during this year’s soft launch, The Bronx Defenders plans to solicit more volunteers and to expand the clinic next year to the broader Bronx community.

Such innovative, proactive steps to address pressing legal and societal problems facing community members in the Bronx is what makes The Bronx Defenders unique and underscores the deep importance of holistic defense.