Monday, April 8, 2013

Tax Law Expert Francine Lipman Shares Knowledge, Research and Experience to Provide Access to Tax Justice

While her frequent travels and speaking engagements may seem taxing, Francine Lipman doesn’t mind them at all.

“As a tax law professor researching, writing, and working with low-income taxpayers, there is always more work to be done,” said the William S. Boyd Professor of Law.

In addition to being a tax law expert at the Boyd School of Law, Lipman is an elected member of the American Law Institute and a vice chair and editor for the Section of Taxation of the American Bar Association (ABA). She was recently elected to the American College of Tax Counsel, an organization for experienced tax attorneys who seek to improve the operation of the country’s tax systems.

Not surprisingly because it is tax season, the spring semester is a busy time of the year for Lipman.  She teaches an Advanced Federal Income Tax Law seminar and participates in many tax outreach events and conferences.

Lipman attended the ABA, Section of Taxation 2013 Midyear Meeting in January in Orlando, Fla., where she presented on tax issues facing immigrants, focusing on H-2A and H-2B visa holders who are temporarily working in the United States. In mid-March, she spoke on tax issues facing same-sex married couples and registered domestic partners in Irvine, Calif. At Pepperdine University School of Law Lipman presented her forthcoming essay at a symposium titled Tax Advice for the Second Obama Administration. Coinciding with inauguration weekend, the symposium featured panel discussions with a variety of prominent and well-know scholars and practitioners who discussed how the tax code may (or may not) change during the next four years.  The conference was webcast to more than 600 online viewers.  Lipman spoke on a panel titled “Occupy the Tax Code: The Buffett Rule, the 1%, and the Fairness/Growth Divide.” The presentation "Access to Tax InJustice" will be published as an essay in the spring 2013 issue of the Pepperdine Law Review.

“The essay focuses on the challenges lower-income taxpayers have accessing social benefits provided through the income tax system. Because the federal income tax system is an established, far-reaching, and cost effective institution, members of Congress are using it increasingly to deliver a myriad of social benefits through a variety of tax provisions, including refundable tax credits,”  Lipman said.

Examples of refundable credits include an adoption credit; the First-Time Homebuyer Credit; and the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), the largest and most successful anti-poverty program for working families.

“The EITC has a meaningful economic stimulant effect on communities with large populations of working lower-income families. Annual tax refunds put critical dollars in the hands of a working family and they spend it for needed goods and services often in their own neighborhoods. The EITC is a bipartisan social benefit program introduced by then-Governor Ronald Reagan that is tied to work. It provides an offset to regressive Social Security taxes as well as an earnings subsidy for working families with children,” Lipman said.

While the EITC has many benefits, Lipman said the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) disproportionately audits EITC tax returns pushing the capacity of lower-income working families to deal with a revenue collection rather than a social benefit agency.

“The IRS is the United States’ revenue collection agency collecting 96% of all government revenues,” Lipman said. “Accordingly, IRS personnel have been trained as collection agents rather than as social benefits counselors. However, if Congress continues to charge the IRS with the delivery of social benefits, we need to train personnel for this purpose. Congress has appropriated the resources to help working families who are in critical need of these benefits. So we should provide a delivery system that is consistent with getting these benefits to targeted families.”

“Another problem is the current design of the EITC as a lump sum annual tax refund.  The large cash refund makes taxpayers vulnerable to unscrupulous tax preparers and lenders. Families who struggle with cash flow and lack basic banking resources and financial planning skills end up with oppressive bills and interest charges,” Lipman said. “Fortunately, law students at Boyd School of Law offer free tax preparation and electronic filing for many of these families during tax season through a Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program in partnership with the IRS. This is a great example of how the law can pay meaningful dividends for law students, and the individuals and communities it serves.”

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