This winter, in addition to the annual Adopt-A-Base training program, the Tax Section undertook a new pro bono project to assist military service members. The new project involves annually updating a state-by-state military tax resource guide.
A number of years ago, the Navy JAG created the State Tax Guide, which briefly summarizes each applicable state’s individual income tax filing requirements and law, with a particular emphasis on issues for members of the military. The Navy JAG then researched all of the states’ laws and updated the Guide each year to keep it current. Due to resource constraints, the Navy JAG has not updated the Guide since the 2018 tax year. While the document was still a useful resource to the Military VITA sites, it was losing value over time as the laws in various states changed.
Military VITA sites and other VITA sites found the guide to be incredibly useful because military members volunteering at VITA sites often are asked to prepare returns for multiple states. Because the IRS only provides federal tax filing training, volunteers do not receive comprehensive training on state tax law provisions. The Guide thus served as a quick reference resource for volunteers faced with an unfamiliar state return. Losing the annual update to the Guide proved to be a big loss for the Military VITA community.
A Tax Section member who had previously used the Guide when volunteering at a Military VITA site reached out to Sheri Dillon, Vice Chair for Pro Bono for the Tax Section, thinking that the Tax Section might be the right partner to annually update the Guide. Sheri agreed, and Jamie Steele, a Vice Chair for the Pro Bono & Tax Clinics Committee, volunteered to lead the project for the Tax Section. Under Jamie’s leadership, dozens of volunteers from the Tax Section’s membership (listed on the second page of the Guide) were able to create an updated Guide just in time for filing 2020 tax returns. Volunteers adopted each state with a state income tax and provided appropriate updates for use by military members involved in the VITA program. The updated Guide was a collaborative effort and demonstrates what the tax community can achieve when it focuses on a worthy task.
The Tax Section circulated the Guide to Susan Mitchell, Executive Director of the Armed Forces Tax Council, to help share the resource with legal services offices and other Military VITA personnel. She expressed her gratitude saying, “On behalf of the Department of Defense, we are so thankful for this comprehensive resource. … Without a doubt, the ABA Taxation Section’s Military State Tax Guide will be an invaluable resource for our members. And perfect timing at the start of the tax season!”
Updating the guide on an annual basis will be an ongoing pro bono project for the Tax Section. We welcome volunteers to join the team at any time, but the need will be particularly acute in the fall leading up to a new filing season. This volunteer opportunity is ideal for new attorneys, retired attorneys, non-attorneys, and anyone in between. It can also be a group project at a firm or at a law school. Student members of the Section are invited to volunteer to assist. No prior experience is necessary, and the information is easily attainable by researching online. If you would like to be a part of this project next year, please contact Meg Newman, Chief Counsel for the Tax Section at Megan.Newman@americanbar.org. Meg will be happy to add you to the team. ■