Joined by community members on Feb. 21, state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys) announced a new partnership with California State University, Northridge’s income tax preparation assistance program during a press conference at Morningside Elementary School, one of three new clinic locations in the City of San Fernando. The partnership between Hertzberg, in collaboration with Citi Community Development, and CSUN’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Clinic aims to improve the financial situation of thousands of struggling low-income families and stimulate economic development in San Fernando by encouraging residents to take advantage of free state and federal tax preparation services offered by CSUN accounting students.
“We’re really proud about it,” Hertzberg said. The senator’s goal is to increase the number of eligible families receiving Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) as part of his ongoing initiative to spark economic and community development throughout the City of San Fernando. “Innovative programs like this bring people to a common place where they feel comfortable, and where they can get access to trusted advice to help them get back the credits they’ve earned,” said Bob Annibale, global director of Citi Community Development and Inclusive Finance. “We hope to learn from our work with San Fernando, and use those lessons to replicate this important work in other communities.” With assistance from Hertzberg and Citi Community Development, which is helping to fund the program’s growth, the VITA Clinic has expanded its services this year by opening three new clinic locations in San Fernando: the San Fernando Library, Las Palmas Park and Morningside Elementary School.
The VITA Clinic is powered by more than 300 volunteers who are IRS-certified tax preparers and operates at 12 sites operating six days a week throughout the San Fernando Valley, offering 120 hours of service every week. During the 12-week tax preparation season, the CSUN VITA Clinic students, who are IRS-certified tax preparers, served almost 455 taxpayers in the City of San Fernando, generating over $500,000 in state and federal refunds. This represents a 600 percent increase from the number of taxpayers served in 2015 in the City of San Fernando (67). Maribel Gonzalez, a Morningside parent and taxpayer assisted by VITA, said through a Spanish-language translator that she was thankful for CSUN students and Morningside Elementary for providing the services and helping the community accomplish so much. Rafi Efrat, CSUN’s Bookstein Chair in Taxation and VITA Program Director, said that this year’s goal was to embark on a similar transformation in San Fernando. “The impact is measured not only by virtue of helping residents of the City of San Fernando to obtain cost-free tax preparation services,” Efrat said, “but, perhaps more importantly, to enable the taxpayers we serve with the opportunity to obtain vital resources for a financial fresh start in their lives.”