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Photo: David Fischer Elana Fowlkes

DC Pro Bono Week 2021 Profiles: New Tax Credits Project – A Bridge to Economic Security

By: Melody Webb, Esq. and Kemi Kehinde

On March 11, 2021, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) into law. Under ARPA, for 2021 the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and the Earned-Income Tax Credit (EITC) were significantly expanded and made refundable, greatly increasing the benefits available for low-income families and individuals, expanding the pool of individuals eligible for these benefits, and permitting cash payments regardless of taxable income.

Recognizing the need to inform parents, other caregivers, and low-income families in the D.C. community of these expanded benefits, and to apprise them of the steps to obtain them, Melody Webb, Executive Director of Mother’s Outreach Network, teamed with Susie Hoffman, Public Service Partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, to identify support for a workshop for parents, ultimately named the “Parents’ Tax Workshop: The EITC and CTC.” Consisting of a general presentation followed by one-on-one sessions with participants, this program is intended to bridge the gap between uninformed Americans and adequate income to address their basic needs. To provide tax law expertise to the much-needed community education initiative, Susie and Melody enlisted David Fischer, tax partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, and Elena Fowlkes, the Taxpayer Advocate in the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue. David embraced this opportunity to help put cash in the pockets of parents that are struggling to meet their families’ needs. Elena reinforced her commitment to ensuring District taxpayers are aware of their rights and obligations and help provide a financial lifeline to struggling District families.

Over recent weeks, Melody, Elena, and David have worked to plan and organize the Parents’ Tax Workshop, providing hands-on input into the structure and content, with David serving as a resource on the federal tax laws, and Elena providing District tax expertise. The program will engage the pro bono assistance of other attorneys, paralegals, and law students in sharing information with lower-income District of Columbia parents and caregivers. A tax background is not required for legal volunteers, who will be provided with an orientation and briefing on local and federal refundable tax credits as preparation for assisting participants. The first of the Tax Workshops will take place during DC Pro Bono Week 2021. Volunteers can sign up here.

This endeavor will ensure that Mother’s Outreach Network’s participants are well- informed, and also will expand the opportunities available to legal volunteers to assist low-income families to increase their economic security. The families newly benefitting from the law are disproportionately Black and Latin-X, making the measure a significant advance in racial and economic equity. While the funds are available to numerous families, many Americans face barriers such as lacking awareness that they are eligible for these credits and lacking knowledge of how to file for their refund. Given the potential of the CTC alone to cut poverty in half, it is critical that parents and caregivers who need these resources the most are empowered with information to claim their rightful refunds.

Elena Fowlkes is currently serving as the Taxpayer Advocate at the District of Columbia’s Office of Tax and Revenue. In this role, she works to ensure access to representation, provides education and outreach, and strives for the improvement of the tax system for all District taxpayers. Prior to joining the Office of Tax and Revenue, Elena was the Assistant Director of the University of Baltimore School of Law Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic. Elena holds a Juris Doctor and Master of Laws in Taxation from the University of Baltimore School of Law and is currently pursuing an Executive Master of Policy Leadership from Georgetown University. Her passion is for economic justice, and to ensure that all eligible taxpayers are receiving the benefits to which they are entitled. Elena is committed to demystifying and streamlining District of Columbia tax laws and regulations so that District taxpayers are aware of their rights and obligations.

David Fischer has been practicing tax law for over 35 years. He earned his J.D. from George Washington University Law School and graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in Economics. As a Partner at Crowell & Moring LLP, he represents clients in high-stakes controversy and litigation with federal and state tax authorities and is recognized as one of the top lawyers in the area of nationwide tax controversy in Chambers USA. Although his work currently focuses on corporate tax issues, David provides tax advice to a number of charities, and eagerly volunteered to add this community tax workshop project to his portfolio.

Melody Webb is the Executive Director of Mother’s Outreach Network and Kemi Kehinde is a second-year law student at Georgetown University Law Center and a law clerk at Mother’s Outreach Network for the Fall 2021 semester

Source: Congressional Research Service. The Child Tax Credit: The Impact of the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA; P.L. 117-2) Expansion on Income and Poverty (July 13, 2021).

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