Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) Initiative – Free Income Tax Preparation Services to Los Angeles County Residents
The CSU5 Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) initiative creates long-term, strategic, and innovative approaches to community development in Greater Los Angeles. Collectively, the CSU5 campuses were awarded California Earned Income Tax Credit (Cal EITC) Free Tax Preparation Assistance Grants by the California Department of Community Services and Development for the 2019 and 2020 tax seasons.
VITA programs provide free tax services to individuals and families with low-to-moderate incomes, including the elderly, those with disabilities and/or those who lack English language proficiency. These tax services are provided by faculty, staff, and trained student volunteers from accounting departments on CSU5 campuses and their local community colleges partners.
Along with partnering community colleges, CSU 5 VITA: a) helps low-income individuals and families file tax returns, b) gives Accounting students professional experience while providing valuable community service, c) demonstrates the social value of CSU campuses in local communities and the regional economy, and d) leverages individual campus strengths, creates synergy through collaboration, and enhances outcomes for VITA programs on each campus.
Each CSU5 VITA campus reaches out externally to inform taxpayers about free tax preparation assistance. They disseminate information about VITA to parents at local feeder high schools, recent alumni, local community organizations, local public officials, and elected representatives to spread the word about the free tax preparation services.
VITA student volunteers reflect the diversity of Greater Los Angeles and often work in the languages of their local communities. Flyers are disseminated in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, and Cambodian, for example, and volunteers engage with clients in these languages. Languages utilized vary across campuses and reflect the communities served.
2019 Tax Season. CSU5 VITA in 2019 generated $17.8 in tax refunds and tax credits for Greater Los Angeles taxpayers. Total clients served were 14,596, or 20.2% more than the participating campuses served working independently in 2018. VITA volunteers increased 16.2% to 948, and the number of VITA sites staffed increased 26.5% to 43. This CSU5 VITA synergy benefits our local communities and invigorates our regional economy as refunds and credits are channeled into goods and services. The complete 2019 annual report can be accessed below.
2020 Tax Season. Just as CSU5 VITA clinics were hitting full stride, the global coronavirus pandemic hit Greater Los Angeles in mid-March. Even though the tax deadline was extended from April 15 to July 15, the pandemic effectively ended the 2020 CSU5 VITA effort. Total clients served declined 40.1% to 8,749 and sites staffed declined 30.0% to 30, but VITA volunteers were nearly unchanged at 944. CSU5 VITA still generated $13.7 million in refunds and credits, about 23.0% lower than 2019. The 2020 annual report will be posted when finished.
2021 Tax Season. The coronavirus pandemic also led to temporary closure of the California economy, a large increase in unemployment, and a huge California state deficit for 2020-201. Governor Newsom could not include Cal EITC Free Tax Preparation Assistance Grants in his proposed budget, leaving CSU5 VITA 2021 funding unclear. Individual campuses will revert to previous funding models, and CSU5 VITA campuses will confer about filling this funding gap.
2022 Tax Season. The CSUN VITA Clinic has been formally awarded a VITA grant from the IRS and a grant from the State of California! CSUN will be awarding CSU5 campuses sub-awards for each of the two grants.
Under the IRS grant, the projected number of taxpayers served is 900 with a funding level of $13,500 (payment is based on the number of taxpayers served at $15 per taxpayer served). Under the State grant, using the same projection of taxpayers served, CSULB VITA will be eligible to receive an additional $22,000.
The two funding agencies have different reporting requirements. While the federal agency requires one cumulative report at the end of the season, the state agency requires monthly reporting. The CSUN CSU5+ VITA Coordinator will be managing the reporting requirements. Future funding from state and federal agencies are highly dependent on achieving our projected goals of taxpayers served, number of student volunteers, number of sites open, number of hours of service offered, and ITIN applications prepared.
The five CSUs – along with several community college partners – provide free clinics on their campuses and throughout Los Angeles County. Please click the campus below to see a list of free VITA income tax preparation locations, hours of operations, and contact information (in English and Spanish).