Talking Taxes on CBC’s Harvesting Hope
Law Professor's students help Winnipeg Harvest clients put tax benefits to work
Dr. Lorna Turnbull was a guest on CBC’s Up To Speed last Friday, as part of CBC’s Harvesting Hope, an annual radiothon fundraiser for Winnipeg Harvest. A professor of tax law at Robson Hall, the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Law, Turnbull spoke with host Ismaila Alfa about the work she had done last spring with her Tax law students as part of Winnipeg Harvest’s annual volunteer tax filing service. The service will continue again in February and March, 2020 with about 25 of Turnbull’s tax law students trained and ready to volunteer.
“As an educator,” said Turnbull, “I find that supporting my students to help the clients of Harvest file their taxes helps develop my students, and serves our community with future lawyers who have some awareness of the various walks of life their clients may come from.”
“Students who have gained awareness of their community and some cultural competency, empathy, interviewing skills and a better understanding of tax law will be better positioned to be effective lawyers,” said Turnbull.
Jason Winter, a third-year law student at Robson Hall, was one of Turnbull’s students who volunteered in 2019 for the Winnipeg Harvest service. “I think that the program provides a really important service for people who need it,” Winter said. “It draws attention to an area that people can benefit from that they really might not think of otherwise. It provides a great opportunity for students to potentially get a little bit of hands on experience with clients, and some real-life tax implications.”
Turnbull said she is happy to see fellow Winnipeggers doing better as a direct result of this service, “because they have been able to access tax refunds and some tax credits” that they might not have otherwise received, she said.
Harvest clients are definitely doing better as a result of the work Turnbull’s students and other volunteers do in helping file taxes, she explained. “As result of their work this spring, 246 returns were filed and just under one million in refunds, benefits and credits were received, mainly from the Canada Child Benefit, the GST credit, the climate action incentive and the education credit,” she said. “Those living in low income, for example, those with minimum wage jobs, precarious work, social assistance and low pensions, benefit immensely from this infusion of cash, and so does our local economy as they spend the money on basic needs right here in our city and province.”
Many barriers make it difficult for clients of Winnipeg Harvest to file taxes on their own, such as the complexity of the process, lack of access to a computer, literacy issues, no access to reliable advice, or through expensive (for profit) tax-filing companies. In 2018, all of the Volunteer Tax Filing Programs around Manitoba, staffed by 450 volunteers, generated $87.7 M, which ended up in the hands of people living in low income. The end result, Turnbull said, “allows for a better quality of life, including food security and quality, better housing, better learning and participation in school activities for kids, warm clothing, and so on.”
The benefit for Winnipeg Harvest that comes as a result of this volunteer tax filing service, Turnbull observed, is that “they are able to provide a continuum of service to their clients in a place and with people who their clients already trust and feel comfortable with. When the clients are doing better, they are healthier and in a better position to support the work of Harvest.”
This year, CBC’s Harvesting Hope radiothon, held December 6 at the North Y Youth Centre, raised $63,740 for Winnipeg Harvest.