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Buffalo Law Students Increase Access and Opportunities

Students and faculty at the University at Buffalo Law School, in partnership with HUD�s Buffalo office, are distributing information on self sufficiency, asset building and homeownership to working families in Erie County. HUD information on topics such as the American Dream Downpayment Initiative and approved housing counseling programs is being distributed at Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites throughout the greater metro area. This is just a small part of a larger self sufficiency/personal asset-building strategy being promoted by the University, HUD, IRS, and various community groups.

The University at Buffalo Law School�s Community Economic Development Clinic plays a key role in this strategy by supporting VITA sites in the City of Buffalo. For the third consecutive tax season, 25 law students are committing their Saturdays to serve low-income taxpayers by preparing the tax forms necessary to access the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child and Dependent Care Credit, Child Tax Credit and other credits designed to benefit low-income working families and individuals. The Clinic also partners with the United Way of Buffalo & Erie County and The Child Care Coalition of the Niagara Frontier to prepare returns for those earning less than $40,000 per year as well as for those with in-home child care businesses.

Working with strong support from the Internal Revenue Service�s regional Stakeholders, Partnerships, Education and Communications (SPEC) office, UB law students train other VITA volunteers on the process of filing tax returns electronically and on the specifics of tax laws that can assist low-income taxpayers.

�The Internal Revenue Service estimates that 20-25 percent of taxpayers eligible for the EITC do not apply for it. Millions of EITC dollars that could be coming into Buffalo and Erie County are left on the table every year. Our law students are volunteering their time to increase the number of EITC dollars that taxpayers receive, keep in their pockets and retain in our local economy. The combination of New York State and the federal EITC can yield tax refunds in excess of $5000. We�d like to make it easier for taxpayers to use at least part of this money to increase their assets for the long term. Our students benefit from learning the practical application of tax law. Perhaps most important, the experience has sparked in law students what I hope will be a lifelong commitment to serve their communities,� comments Lauren Breen, director of the UB Law Community Economic Development Clinic.

Additionally, in December 2004, the Western New York Asset Building Coalition and the Erie County Self-Sufficiency Steering Committee merged to form the Self-Sufficiency Coalition. Comprised of over 30 community-based organizations, educational institutions and government agencies, the Self-Sufficiency Coalition is enacting a three-year strategic plan to increase the capacity of the Buffalo VITA network and to utilize EITC refunds toward long term asset building for low to moderate income individuals and families in Western New York. The plan seeks to sustain ongoing operations of VITA sites; provide financial education to the community; and increase the level of matching dollars available for Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) in Erie County. IDA programs allow low-income individuals to receive matching funds for every dollar they save towards acquiring a particular asset, such as a first home, business or college education. IDA funds are unique in that they do not disqualify savers from most means tested public benefit programs.

Additional information about the Self-Sufficiency Coalition can be obtained by calling the United Way of Buffalo and Erie County at (716) 887-2626.

Content Archived: March 07, 2011

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