A “desperately poor” Takoma Park mother had her significant tax and public benefit problems solved after a team of HPRP volunteers pitched in to help. The icing on the cake? With the help of a volunteer accountant, the client refiled several tax returns and will be getting nearly $6,000 in refunds!
“She came to us at our Shepherd’s Table intake with a letter from the IRS,” said long-time HPRP pro bono attorney Mary Anna Donohoe. “I looked at her tax return, and it was completely fraudulent, with claims for thousands of dollars in charitable contributions. But she only makes $350 every two weeks!”
The client had paid someone in her building to prepare her tax returns. “She’s functionally illiterate, and she signed the returns because she thought she had to,” Mary Anna said. “I told her we have to send an amended return. But it’s very hard to find a pro bono accountant.”
Mary Anna reached out to Emily Vaias (above, in the photo), another HPRP volunteer attorney (and board member), who talked to her accountant, Staci Winters. Staci agreed to help the client at no charge.
“With her amended 2012 return, she got a refund of $1,000,” Mary Anna said. “I asked Staci to also do her 2014 return. Because the client has two children living with her—she’s desperately poor and gets food stamps, Medicaid and lives in Section 8 housing—she’s going to get back almost $5,000. When I met the client and told her, I thought she was going to faint. She started to cry. She lives so desperately close to the edge.”
Mary Anna also helped her with a bureaucratic snafu that threatened to cut off her public benefits. “She was being treated very badly, but I straightened it out,” she said.
Mary Anna began volunteering for HPRP in 1988. “I think it is the most fulfilling and satisfying way to practice law,” she said. “You meet the best lawyers. Everyone at HPRP is so dedicated to helping poor people have a better life. It makes a huge difference in the way you feel about the practice of law. It binds you to the community where you live.”