Service-Learning | News: Helping with Tax Forms

Students of Advanced Taxation Help Poor Families Complete Tax Forms

Tell me and I will forget.
Teach me and I will remember.
Involve me and I will learn
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filing taxes

Professor Wayne Tanna wrote: Students in advanced taxation participated in a Service-Learning project as part of their course requirements. The project involved doing tax returns for people who are living in homeless transition shelters (Maililand and Loliana, Sponsored by Catholic Charities, and the Weinberg homeless village in Waimanalo) and homeless emergency shelters (The Institute for Human Services - IHS - men's and women's shelters). The work was done at these various sites. Since the work was done at the actual sites and not on the Chaminade Campus or in some posh Bishop Street Office, the experience provided an awakening for many of our students. The Chaminade students prepared both federal and state tax returns for homeless and low-income people. The experience was beneficial for all: the students, while providing a meaningful and valuable service, got to learn and further develop their interviewing and tax preparation skills. I, as the instructor, got to take a part of my usual teaching out of the classroom and into a real life situation. The clients got assistance in legal and tax compliance that all citizens have a duty to fulfill but for one reason or another they could not do it by themselves.

Beyond the academic and technical aspects required to be a successful accountant, the students also were exposed to a social policy issue. That issue revolved around the basic need for a tax system and why such a system is so difficult to adhere to. Additionally, students were pushed into asking the questions: Why do the poor and the homeless need to be concerned with taxes? Why are the poor and the homeless taxed to begin with?

The Honolulu Star-Bulletin, on 4 March 1999, reported that the tax tab for Hawaii's poor is the second largest in the U.S. The threshold for tax liability for a family of four in Hawaii is $6100, less than half of the national poverty level ($16,550.00). The students know from class that the standard deduction for a married couple filing a joint return is $6900 and that the four personal exemptions at $2700 each come out to a total of $17,700. They also know that these amounts were set by Congress because they roughly approximate the poverty-line income level for a family of four in the U.S.

As a result, some students ask why the state taxes those who have so little to begin with. Hopefully, this leads to thoughts and discussions as to equity or inequity among different groups in the state. Hopefully, this Service-Learning experience has started the students thinking about why the state's policy is the way it is and how it could be changed to lessen the burden on those who are least able to pay. Borrowing from anthropologist Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraus, from their work entitled "Aspects of the Present", we offer a salute to our students who have forgotten, remembered and now learned something of substance about themselves and their abilities.

"We live in a society that has always depended on volunteers of different kinds - some who can give money, others who give time and a great many who freely give of their special skills, full-time or part-time. If you look closely, you will see that almost anything that really matters to us, anything that embodies our deepest commitment to the way human life should be lived and cared for depends on some form - more often, many forms - of volunteerism."

To this we humbly add Service-Learning.