Fiona Ma for State Assembly

The Gift of Giving

Holidays are a time to see old friends, visit relatives, and celebrate the traditions that make each family unique.

It’s also a time to think about your community and focus on giving back to others. It doesn’t have to be money; it could be time you volunteer to a shelter, a donation of food or clothes, or a random act of kindness to a stranger in need.

#GivingTuesday on November 29, 2016 kicks off the charitable season and there are many ways you can be #UNSelfie. California is making it easier than ever to lend a hand to those in need with donation boxes on your income tax forms - the California 540, 540 EZ, 540NR, and 541.

The first individual voluntary contribution check off box on California Income Tax Returns was created in 1982 and appeared on the 1983 tax year returns. From 1982 to 2015, these voluntary contributions to the nearly 50 legislatively enacted funds (there will be 20 funds in 2017) have directed more than $110 million dollars to help protect endangered species, provide emergency food for families, support child abuse prevention programs, assist rape crisis centers to provide services, and other charitable causes.

In February 2017, a new checkoff box will appear on California personal income tax return forms. This new donation box will allow Californian’s to donate to the newly created Domestic Violence Victims Fund, making it possible for domestic violence shelters to apply for a grant administered by the California Office of Emergency Services. Funds from the grant enable domestic violence shelters to continue providing support and a safe place for victims.

During my six-year tenure in the California Legislature, I served as the Chair of the Domestic Violence Select Committee. The committee members were shocked to learn how many California domestic violence shelters were forced to turn away women and children because of a lack of funding – forcing victims to choose to return to the home of their abuser or live on the street. Recently, my staff and I witnessed a domestic violence incident just down the street from my home. A man was pulling a woman by her hair to get in his car. He took off, dragging the woman while half of her body was hanging out the passenger side. We called 911 and followed them until the abuser stopped his car, proving the victim with an opportunity to escape before the abuser then sped off. I was shocked at the level of violence involved. It made me even more determined to do what I can to raise awareness of the tragedy behind these violent acts. Not all situations end where the victim was able to escape, to survive. I urge the public to help break the cycle of violence. Look at the voluntary contribution boxes on your California income tax returns and consider checking the box for the Domestic Violence Victims Fund. It could provide funding to potentially save a life.

It’s critical to raise awareness about this new Domestic Violence Victims Fund because some of these voluntary contribution funds must meet a minimum threshold. If the contributions by taxpayers do not exceed $250,000 (as adjusted for inflation) in any taxable year, the Domestic Violence Victims Fund may be repealed and removed from the tax returns the following year. New legislation would be required to put the fund back on the return.

Let your heart grow three sizes when you file your California tax return in 2017. Look for the Domestic Violence Victims Fund and consider donating or donate to one of the other 20 funds that will appear on the California return. Every bit of giving helps. It’s a small check on the form but a big return to those you help. Tell your story of how you are giving back at #MyGivingStory.