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Low-income LGBT residents offered free tax preparation

Two organizations in Baltimore have teamed up to offer free tax preparation help to low-income LGBT residents in Baltimore.

"I think the low-income community needs tax prep in general, not just the LGBT community," said Aaron Merki, executive director of Free State Legal, which provides free legal advice to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Marylanders. "But there are a lot of tax issues following marriage equality that might need special attention, so we felt this was a particularly important year to provide tax assistance to our client-base."

Maryland passed same-sex marriage in 2012, so 2013 was the first in which LGBT couples in Maryland were given certain rights. Other rights have recently been awarded to LGBT couples at the federal level as well, many of which can affect how couples file their taxes, Merki said.

Free State is partnering to offer the free tax preparations with the Baltimore CASH Campaign, an organization that helps families in Baltimore "maximize their financial opportunities and resources."

The BCC offers classes to residents throughout Baltimore, but its partnership with Free State is specifically geared toward the LGBT population, Merki said.

The need for legal advice in the LGBT community is rapidly expanding, Merki said. Free State is on track to handle between 350 and 400 cases this year.

"Our case load has been increasing quickly, I would say at a rate of 40 to 50 percent annually, and we expect that trend to continue," he said. "Most people think that following marriage equality, the fight is sort of over, and the opposite is actually true."

With court victories on marriage and other rights, LGBT organizations like Free State are charged with making the victories "applicable to the lives of individuals, which requires legal services," Merki said.

"We're only just ramping up, it's just getting started," he said.

Free tax preparation assistance will be offered every Thursday between Jan. 30 and April 4 on the first floor of the Chase Brexton Building, at 1111 N. Charles Street.

Assistance is available by appointment only. Interested individuals should call Free State between 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. daily at 410-625-5428 to make an appointment.

Such assistance requires paperwork be brought to the appointment, including a social security card for each member of the family; a photo I.D. for each filer, W-2 forms for all jobs worked in 2013, a copy of last year's returns and various other documents.

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