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Free Tax Prep And Legal Advice

Scepter Online
Campus News

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 said.

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.Single Stop Brochure

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.