Bookstein Tax Clinic receives grant

The U.S. Department of Treasury has awarded a $64,000 grant to CSUN’s Bookstein Tax Clinic.

This is the third year the clinic has been chosen and is one of 90 other nationwide institutions to receive the grant, said Rafi Efrat, the director of the Bookstein Tax Clinic.

“We had to demonstrate we have developed an effective program and they reviewed the results to see how we performed,” Efrat said.  “They were very impressed with the services we offer and the level of work we do for community service.”

The clinic provides free consultation and representation to low-income taxpayers who face federal disputes with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Efrat said.  CSUN students act as counselors who educate and assist clients to handle situations like eligibility documents, audit records and tax collection requirements.

“Given the complexity of taxes, we thought it would be a wonderful service,” Efrat said.  “We have identified a growing and unmet need in the community.  We are the only center in Los Angeles that provides this broad service to clients.”

Students said the grant would be instrumental in hiring additional support staff and resources for bilingual counseling.

Senior Adriana Rodriguez, a double major in accounting and business honors, participates in the Bookstein Tax Clinic.

“As I am sure the 2010 Census will depict, the Spanish-speaking population within Los Angeles County has grown since the 2000 Census, which is why the additional funds would help the clinic meet this growing demand for tax assistance offered in Spanish,” Rodriguez said.

Students participate in the service by enrolling in the course, Efrat said.  There is a class for undergraduates, accounting 442, and one class for graduates, accounting 698 Tax Clinic.  One graduate leader supervises a small team of undergraduates to form peer mentor relationships, Efrat said.

In 2009, the students clocked 2,500 hours of counseling for 120 clients and Efrat said he expects 150 clients to be served this year.  There are about 60 students participating in the clinic right now, Efrat said.

“It is a great feeling to work with a client and hear hope in their voice again,”  Rodriguez said.  “Generally, when you first speak with a client, they communicate how the tax liability has affected their work and/or personal life, so when we start to tackle their case they are extremely grateful and relieved for our services. I really do feel like we are helping to unwind a burden that has been holding them back from enjoying their lives.”

This type of program exists at law schools but CSUN is one of the few universities to offer it for undergraduates, Efrat said.  The students don’t prepare the actual tax returns but instead, concentrate on the education and representation spectrum and they also work with attorneys for hearings and necessary paperwork, Efrat said.

Senior Alex Fox, 28, an accounting major, who is enrolled in the course, said that working in the clinic has been a learning experience.

“I’ve learned that the Bookstein Tax Clinic is a valuable part of helping the community and I didn’t realize how many people seek its help,” Fox said. “It took the aspects of taxation from a classroom setting to a hands-on setting.  The experience is truly one of a kind.”

The students also teach seminars about how to address tax controversies with the IRS throughout the Los Angeles area, Rodriguez said.  This past year, students worked at 35 of these workshops with low-income taxpayers and self-employed taxpayers, Efrat said.  The seminars usually have eight to 55 people and range in duration from one to six hours, Efrat said.