Photo by Lee Choo

Hoping the expand the impact of CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic, university officials are collaborating with four other CSU campuses and six Los Angeles-based community colleges to dramatically increase the number of low-income taxpayers are served in Los Angeles County. 

For nearly 50 years, California State University, Northridge has been providing free tax preparation assistance to low-income families and individuals.

Hoping to expand CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic’s impact, university officials have collaborated with four other California State University campuses and six Los Angeles-based community colleges to dramatically increase the number of low-income taxpayers served in Los Angeles County.

“I am thrilled to have CSUN’s VITA Clinic take the lead in embarking on a visionary collaboration with 11 academic institutions in Los Angeles to develop a model for a sustainable, institutionalized and systematic offering of free tax preparation services throughout Los Angeles County and beyond,” said accounting professor Rafi Efrat, Bookstein Chair in Taxation and the director of CSUN’s VITA Clinic.

To officially mark the collaboration, CSUN is hosting a special celebration on Saturday, Feb. 9, in the courtyard in front of the David Nazarian College of Business and Economics, located on the west side of the campus near the corner of Plummer Street and Etiwanda Avenue. The 9 a.m. event will feature speeches by CSUN President Dianne F. Harrison, Congressman Tony Cárdenas, Bill Allen, chief executive officer of the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, and Lisa Salazar, director of workforce development and economic opportunity for the Los Angeles mayor’s office. A tax preparation clinic will follow.

 CSUN’s VITA program has received national recognition for its support of those in need in the community — including non-English speakers, people with disabilities and veterans — as well as for the hands-on training it gives the hundreds of student volunteers who provide the service at a handful of locations throughout Los Angeles each year.

Efrat received a $344,250 grant from the California Department of Community Services and Development to expand the program to include the CSU 5 VITA Initiative, named for the five California State University campuses — Northridge, Los Angeles, Dominguez Hills, Long Beach and Pomona — taking the lead on the project.

Each CSU campus is teaming up with at least one community college in its region to build a comprehensive network of free tax preparation outreach services in its immediate area. The community colleges taking part in the initiative include College of the Canyons, East Los Angeles, Los Angeles Mission College, Long Beach City College, Mount San Antonio College and Santa Monica College.

“We are building on an existing, well-established mechanism of collaboration of the CSU 5,” Efrat said, noting that the CSU 5 initiative is a collaboration among the five CSU campuses in the Los Angeles region aimed at creating long-term, strategic and innovative approaches to community development in the area.

Efrat said the goal of the CSU 5 VITA Initiative is to help low-income individuals and families file tax returns and get federal and California Earned Income Tax Credits; provide accounting students with professional experience while at the same time providing valuable community service; demonstrate the importance and social value of the CSU campuses in local communities and throughout the region’s economy; and leverage individual campus strengths and create synergy by working together.

By working with their local community colleges, leaders at the five CSU campuses hope to provide free tax preparation assistance to low-income families and individuals throughout Los Angeles County — from Long Beach to the south, Antelope Valley to the north, Pomona to the east, Santa Monica to the west and all areas in between.

“We expect to deploy more than 1,000 student volunteers to serve more than 13,000 low-income taxpayers in Los Angeles County,” Efrat said.

He noted that the 11-campus collaboration has the ability to provide free tax preparation assistance to thousands of non-English speakers, including those who speak Spanish, Armenian, Russian, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, Vietnamese, Chinese and Farsi.

This year, CSUN’s VITA Clinic began offering its services to low-income members of the public on Jan. 28. Its program will run through April 13 at CSUN and satellite locations throughout Los Angeles County. For more information about CSUN’s VITA Clinic, including locations and qualification for its services, visit its website at vita.csun.edu or call (818) 677-3600.