Photo by David Hawkins

Celebrating the launch of the new free tax preparation clinics for veterans in Los Angeles are, from left to right, Congressman Brad Sherman, CSUN accounting professor, CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, and, from Citi Community Development, Debbie Taylor, Ruth Christopherson, James Alva, Rashi Kallur and Laura Peralta. 

California State University, Northridge (CSUN) announced today the launch of new free tax preparation clinics for veterans in Los Angeles, an innovative effort in collaboration with Citi Community Development and the Los Angeles Veterans Administration.

Now through April 15, CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) clinics will offer free services specifically targeting veterans, including financial training and efforts to ensure eligible filers receive their Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). Those eligible must have had an annual household income under $54,000 in 2017.

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) estimates that more than two million veterans nationwide are eligible for the EITC. Yet, according to the most recent data, only 425,042 veterans — 21 percent — claimed the EITC in 2017. In Los Angeles County, where an estimated 70,000 veterans are eligible for the EITC, only 5 percent took advantage of the credit in 2017. While there is a maximum gross income limit per tax return set by the IRS, the limit of $54,000, in California is approximately the average income of a Los Angeles resident.

With funding support from Citi Community Development, CSUN has trained veteran volunteers as IRS-certified tax filers with the goal to assist an estimated 4,500 of their veteran peers in filing their taxes, claiming tax credits and developing positive financial budgeting habits. Throughout tax season veteran volunteers will provide support to veterans at nine veteran centers throughout Los Angeles County. This innovative peer-to-peer approach is aimed to increase veteran EITC filing for the 2017 tax year.

“The focus of the initiative is to provide veterans with greater access to obtaining financial resiliency,” said accounting professor Rafi Efrat, director of the CSUN VITA Clinic and Bookstein Institute for Higher Education in Taxation. “Not only will we be training veterans how to help their fellow veterans with tax preparation, but we will also offer financial workshops that will hopefully empower them to manage their finances.”

Congressman Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks, praised the program.

“I think everybody in the Valley, and specially at CSUN, should be proud that the VITA program started on the CSUN campus in 1970, and has grown to have locations all over the country,” Sherman said. “I have nothing but praise for the student volunteers who are working with the faculty and staff in the business college to help people, including veterans, prepare their taxes and get their Earned Income Tax Credits.”

“Our veterans were prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for America, and we should do everything possible to connect them to assistance and services that will give them a leg up,” said Los Angeles Mayor Garcetti. “The money they can save with the EITC can make a world of difference to someone readjusting to civilian life — allowing them to invest in meaningful things like quality childcare, home improvements, reliable transportation, and higher education.”

The program is staffed by IRA-certified veteran volunteers and will be available to taxpayers six days a week at 20 sites throughout Los Angeles County, including 9 sites exclusively serving veterans. A list of locations, dates and times can be found on the CSUN VITA website.

“After exiting the military, veterans often find they have to make important decisions very quickly, including establishing financial plans. Tax season can offer a key opportunity to begin planning and saving for the future,” said Ruth Christopherson, Senior Vice President of Citi Salutes and Citi Community Development and retired Colonel of the South Dakota Air National Guard. “By expanding free tax preparation services to lower income veterans, CSUN aims to enable more eligible families to gain access to financial education from trusted peers and help build their long-term financial resilience.”

“The County of Los Angeles Department of Military and Veterans Affairs is proud to partner with California State University, Northridge VITA Clinic to serve veterans in our County with free tax preparation and financial education,” said Stephanie Stone, chief deputy director of Los Angeles County’s Department of Military and Veterans Affairs. “Dr. Rafi Efrat and his team embrace the words of John F. Kennedy who once said about veteran appreciation, ‘As we express our gratitude we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words…but to live by them.”

Last year, more than 345 student volunteers provided free tax preparation assistance to more than 6,000 low income individuals through CSUN’s VITA Clinic.

Citi Community Development has invested $2.6 million to support free tax preparation services for eligible people in twelve major cities and regions across the country.

In addition to the support from Citi, the program’s mission has long been supported by such philanthropists as Harvey Bookstein, a CSUN alumnus and one of California’s most respected certified public accountants, and visionary businessman David Nazarian, also a CSUN alumnus.