March 14, 2009
MSU College of Law Alternative Spring Break Post #2
Michigan State University College of Law
Law Students’ Alternative Spring Break
New Orleans, LA
Posting for Tuesday, March 10, 2009
Posted By: Professor Michele LaForest Halloran, Director of Clinical Programs and Director of the Tax Clinic, MSU College of Law
• Today, Melissa and I did Gavin’s (not his real name) taxes. Gavin is a recovering addict and a kind, gentle soul. He regaled us all with his personal Katrina story of being evacuated from the New Orleans jail. He was chained to other prisoners and had to wade out in the water. After work, we took a tour of some hard-hit areas – it was distressing in many ways. I feel good about being here – I am happy to be helping people who have gone through this.
• Today we were able to meet more residents and got to hear their stories about life and the storm. It’s really interesting hearing what people went through and to see how far they’ve come. I never thought I would receive such insight from these individuals, but many of them have gone through so much and have turned their lives around, although they faced such adversity. Needless to say, it was another great day.
• This entry has little to do with tax, and more to do with New Orleans and its people. I feel that this trip so far has given me a richer and more complete experience of the city. I continue to be surprised by the openness of the people here. The staff at our hotel shared their experience of Katrina and the efforts of the government in getting their lives together. Simply put, they were not happy. I have never heard anyone use the word “TERRIBLE” so many times in a conversation. We also got a chance to tour the lower 9th Ward and St. Bernard Parish and see the destruction Katrina left in its wake. There were large sections of houses with water damage on the roofs from the flooding. Regardless of all this destruction, there is a definite sense that people are attempting to return some sense of normalcy to their lives.
• Today we got to hear stories about the Hurricane directly from members of the Gateway Recovery community. In doing so, I realized how much of an impact we have on the people here – just by doing something simple, like helping with taxes. Even more so, I realized how many things haven’t changed and how much can still be done with a little effort. It is still shocking what a different world it is here, and I wish I could do more to help. One important lesson I learned today was that advice can be as important as anything – this specific instance involved tax advice, but I think the principle applies across the board. We are able to learn life lessons from New Orleans residents, and in some way, big or small, we are able to teach them too.
• The stories we have heard from members of the Gateway Recovery Center are some of the most captivating stories I have ever heard. I will never get tired of hearing these stories. The novelty of tax returns has passed with time, but a new group of clients has presented a new challenge. The challenge of today was to inform the clients that they owed the IRS money. Before today, we only dealt with clients who were receiving refunds. As you can imagine, telling a client he owes money elicits a different response from the joyous responses of the previous day. Even faced with this adversity, the residents of Gateway Recovery remained positive and friendly. Today, we counseled the clients on possible payment options they could take advantage of to repay their tax debts. Specifically, we suggested that they contact the IRS about an installment plan. Additionally, we suggested possible steps the residents could take to change the amount of tax withheld from their yearly earnings. These steps would allow them to avoid having to pay the IRS such a large amount of tax at the end of 2009.
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