It was a snowy day, and as usual some Harvard Law School students were working in the library. But they weren’t studying, and they weren’t on campus. They were in the Cambridge Public Library, helping local residents do their taxes.
About a dozen chairs lined up against the wall on L2 were filled with people from varied backgrounds, including an elderly woman quietly chatting, a middle-aged man reading the newspaper, and a young woman wearing earbuds. All were waiting for tax assistance.
From Feb. 9 to April 14, the student-run organization Harvard TaxHelp is leading the University’s branch of the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program at the Cambridge library. VITA is a program initiated by the Internal Revenue Service that offers assistance to those who make $54,000 or less annually, and those with limited English-speaking skills.
The program is popular and has spread by word of mouth, so some clients may find themselves waiting awhile. “We wish we could do more,” said Edward Grais, a volunteer tax preparer who is a student at the Law School.
As part of the volunteer requirement, Grais went through the VITA training and said he felt somewhat overwhelmed at first. But by now, he said, “It’s pretty rewarding; it’s interesting to see people in different situations.” Grais plans to become a tax lawyer, and said that this experience was “a way of rounding out a picture of what tax is.”
Harvard TaxHelp has more than a dozen student members. In one five-hour session, eight members can help as many as 30 clients. There are more than 40 VITA locations offering similar services within a 10-mile radius of Cambridge.
“I heard about this program from a friend at Bunker Hill Community College,” said Jin “Dora” Qian, who is originally from Jiangsu province in China and has been abroad since 2006. Qian said she decided to go to the Cambridge location instead this year because, “At this one, you don’t need to make an appointment.”
Another international client said at first, “I thought it was an information session,” according to Alice Di Concetto, a fellow at the Law School who was born in France.
With the April 17 tax deadline approaching, there’s still time for many community members to get help with those taxes.