KCC's Single Stop: Free Tax Prep And Legal Advice
By Ronni Hua
Advertising has expanded and managed to slip into every facet of campus life. If
you haven t noticed them it's because we have all learned to ignore them. The Single
Stop posters should not be ignored. The service it offers comes from humble beginnings,
when Heidi Lopez, single stop coordinator, handed out flyers in the hallways and answer
your financial questions.
Two years ago, Lopez was offered a position to spearhead Single Stop services at KCC,
right after she just graduated with a Masters in social work. She was given one year
to prove to the organization's board members of Single Stop USA that she could run
the program effectively. It was always appealing to start something new and doing
something sustainable so that will always be here. It has an immediate impact, she
She was the only staff working on this pilot project, which offered just free tax
preparation services at the time. It was like screaming in the Grand Canyon, but I
was welcomed with open arms, she said. She was able to introduce herself and the services
she provided in classrooms, orientation meetings for Accelerated Study in Associate
Programs (ASAP) and College Discovery.
Within that year from February to June, she proved that Single Stop was vital to the
KCC community. By the end of her first year, 175 people used her services in taxes
alone. From then on, Single Stop USA advocated for funding to expand their services
throughout all the City University of New York (CUNY) campuses.
A lot has changed since the program was establishment. The Single Stop Office now
located in V-231, has one full time work-study student, two full time staff members
which include Lopez as coordinator and Natasha Botaswain as assistant coordinator
and Kate Brennan, a lawyer from the Legal Aid Society, who comes in once a week. Both
Lopez and Botaswain split tasks in consulting students on tax preparation, benefit
screening and legal services especially during the busy tax season.
Outreach to students about Single Stop services have also expanded. Staff working
with students in academic advisement, bursar, programs like ASAP and College Discovery
and the financial aid office know about the services Single Stop offers by heart.
There are also two banners for Single Stop hanging above the cafeteria, a poster in
front of the library and Lopez has made the initiative to send email blasts to students.
This past year 625 students filed their taxes through the school and totaled over
a million dollars in savings.
Due to the high turnover rate of students graduating and new students coming into
KCC, not many students know about the free services and getting the word out is still
just as important now as it was the first year. Without constant advertising, hundreds
of students would be missing out on the free services they may need.
Some of the most extreme cases the program has assisted with have been those who have
had fires in their home, were homeless, faced domestic violence and families who needed
legal services when they were facing eviction.
Students who visit Lopez usually seek help in tax preparation and legal services,
but they may not know that by being processed into the Benefit Enrollment Network
(BEN) software they are screened and may be eligible for more aid. Some qualify for
other benefits such as extra cash to help with rent and quality for health insurance.
Speaking to some of the students on KCC,on how they were filing there taxes this year.
Four students have not heard of Single Stop yet and pay to have their taxes filed.
Nikki Halsey a Criminal Law Major, files her taxes through the school, because of
its convenience and because Heidi makes things easy and I got paid for going to school.
Another student, Shateea Hicks a Mental Health Major, got her taxes done elsewhere
before she found out about Single Stop. Getting your taxes done at other places was
not really good, they try to rip you off and when she spoke with Lopez she said, She
was nice [and] she was very professional. She made sure the man sent out my taxes,
because of the snow storm.