The Ohio Benefit Bank Newsletter   May 2009
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In this issue


Regional Spotlight: Northeast Ohio

A Brief Look at OBB's Top Tax site for 2008: Pickaway County Community Action

New Email Address? Update Now!

Report from the Ohio Anti-Poverty Task Force

OBB by the numbers

Client Spotlight: Phil, Bea and Caroline


NEORegional Spotlight: Northeast Ohio

NEO Regional MeetingOn April 9th the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank was pleased to host a meeting for all of the Summit County Ohio Benefit Bank sites, their Community Partners, and the Summit County Department of Job and Family Services (SCDJFS). This meeting was one in a series of Regional Meetings taking place across the state for OBB sites to participate in.

In Summit County OBB sites were encouraged to start a dialogue with SCDJFS. Frances Ladd, Deputy Director of Family Support Services for SCDJFS noted that "E-Gateway is a great tool for sites and very useful to our office, but increasing communication between sites and caseworkers is where we see some of the biggest potential being at."

Sites were offered some ideas for new collaborations with SCDJFS like training opportunities to learn more about benefits, eligibility, documentation needs, and different processes that caseworkers must go through with each application. Then there was an opportunity for sites to suggest some further collaboration after discussion in small groups. One site suggested having "Live Help" with Caseworkers or their supervisors on line using a chat tool to answer questions for OBB sites in real time and an OBB/FAQ section on the SCDJFS website.

An OBB Counselor from one Summit County site stated, "the greatest benefit of this meeting seemed to be the open communication from both sides looking to streamline processes and create a better client experience."

Save the Dream LogoSaveSave the Dream: helping Ohioans facing foreclosure

Save the Dream is the State of Ohio's foreclosure prevention effort aimed at helping Ohioans take action to save their dream of homeownership. This unique multi-agency effort supports the recommendations of the Ohio Foreclosure Prevention Task Force by making free help easily available for Ohioans. Valuable information and resources can be accessed through the website, savethedream.ohio.gov, and the hotline, 888-404-4674.

Visit the Save the Dream website at savethedream.ohio.gov to:

- Find information on the foreclosure process, how to contact mortgage servicers, what resources are available in each county, how to avoid "rescue" scams, information on renters and foreclosure, what legal assistance and mediation is available, and answers to frequently asked questions.

- Watch video testimonials from homeowners who sought help from HUD-approved housing counselors to save their homes, as well as an overview of what homeowners can expect when working with a housing counselor.

- Find information on upcoming Borrower Outreach Day events.

Call the Save the Dream hotline at 888-404-4674 to:

- Speak with a trained operator 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

- Connect with an approved housing counseling agency or legal aid.

Housing Counseling
Save the Dream marks the first time that the State of Ohio has officially partnered with housing counseling agencies. Over $7.5 million in grants are being administered by the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency to make housing counseling available throughout the state. Over 7,100 callers were referred to housing counselors last year.

Legal Assistance
Over 1,300 attorneys have volunteered to help homeowners throughout Ohio. The Ohio Housing Finance Agency and the Ohio State Legal Services Association administer nearly $2 million in grant funding to ensure that Ohioans facing foreclosure have access to the legal help they need. Over 1,100 callers were referred to legal assistance last year, and starting this year every homeowner will receive referrals to both housing counseling and legal assistance.

Mediation
Save the Dream developed a program mediation model that courts can adapt to meet their local needs and resources. This program is facilitated by the Ohio Supreme Court and has trained hundreds of court personnel, ensuring that mediation is available in all 88 counties.

Foreclosure Rescue Loans and Grants
Over 700 Ohioans have received rescue loans and grants from the State of Ohio. NeighborWorks organizations administer over $5 million in grants and deferred loans from the Ohio Department of Development and the Ohio Housing Finance Agency. Homeowners can consult a Save the Dream housing counselor to see if they are eligible for a grant or loan.

Neighborhood Stabilization
In addition to helping the individual homeowner, neighborhoods can receive assistance for the restoration or demolition of abandoned and vacant properties. The State of Ohio received an allocation of over $258 million in Neighborhood Stabilization Program funds from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development. The Ohio Department of Development administers over $116 million of these funds through the Office of Housing and Community Partnerships.

Compact to Help Ohioans
Ohio was the first state in the nation to help its citizens by reaching an agreement with nine servicers. The Ohio Department of Commerce has worked with compact signers to make every attempt possible to prevent default loans and foreclosure in Ohio. Compact signers recently agreed to institute a new escalation process, which will ensure another layer of recourse for homeowners who are struggling to modify their mortgage with a compact signer.

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PICCAA Brief Look at OBB's Top Tax site for 2008: Pickaway County Community Action

The Pickaway County Community Action (PICCA) Tax Clinic started in 2008 with one computer, a handful of dedicated community volunteers, Ohio Benefit Bank software and IRS training. The site's goal was 100 returns.
 
They did twice that many, and another 200 paper returns for people who wanted to claim the $300 stimulus rebate.
 
The need for this service in their community is strong and has been well-received. In 2009, their goal was to prepare 150 returns. PICCA's last report from The Ohio Benefit Bank tallied 394 federal returns processed by the tax sites. Sites reached out to low-wage workers to help families and individuals claim the Earned Income Tax Credit, even preparing returns from the past three years or amending previous returns to help people in their community claim the credit. Their work helped people pay off medical debt, remain in their homes and catch up on mortgage and rent payments, purchase vehicles, and become more self-sufficient.
 
"PICCA's mission is to create opportunities that empower people to improve their quality of life. The tax program is a perfect fit. It's truly inspiring to see so many people who received a hand up through our program," said Katrina Seymour, Director of New Business Development at PICCA.
 
The commitment of tax clinic volunteers was one reason for the program's success, according to Seymour. Three tax preparers at PICCA prepared more than 100 returns. Two more prepared more than 50 returns each. Others helped file and return phone calls. No matter how large or small, every contribution mattered and contributed to the program.
 
"Another reason we were able to grow this year was the acquisition of an OBB Technology Grant. PICCA gave us building space to set up our own area for tax preparation with the five computer stations, and that worked out really well."
 
PICCA expanded partnerships and initiated new sites, as well. "One of my volunteers, Chris Kassner, manages Kingston National Bank in South Bloomfield, a growing community in the northern part of Pickaway County. She offered to open her bank to tax clinic clients on Fridays, which really helped draw in people from other areas of the county. We continued to partner with Ohio Christian University and two of their financial aid employees, Mike Fracassa and Wes Brothers, prepare returns on campus for eligible students and their families. We have many excellent collaborations and are lucky to have outstanding volunteers," she said.
 
PICCA's tax clinic had 16 volunteers this year. The site returned more than a half a million dollars to Pickaway County residents.

EmailNew Email Address? Update Now!

EmailAll OBB Counselors and administrators must have accurate email addresses on file with OBB.  Email is our primary mode of communication and incorrect information means you may miss out on changes to the software or Benefit Bank usage reports.

If you need to update your email address, or other contact information, log-in as a counselor at obb.ohio.gov and click on the "Edit Profile" link located in the upper right of the screen.  Make any necessary changes and click "update." 

anitpovOhio Anti-Poverty Task Force presents detailed report to Governor

On April 28, the Ohio Anti-Poverty Task Force presented its report and detailed recommendations to Governor Strickland. The recommendations, which address economic advancement, foundational stability, children and youth, and transparency, accountability, and leadership, were the products of work groups that involved hundreds of diverse individuals from across the state.  A report prepared by Community Research Partners (CRP) for the Ohio Association of Community Action Agencies, The Real Bottom Line: The State of Poverty in Ohio 2008, provided an impetus for establishment of the Task Force.

View the report and presentation here.

numberOBB By the Numbers

Total number of Counselors: 3,855
Total Number of Sites: 888

Since 2006 we have served over 69,000 people
and returned over $101,281,153 in potential work supports and tax credits.

clientClient Spotlight: Phil & Bea, the happy homeowners
Charles Stough, OBB Counselor, City Heart, Dayton

Bowl of ChiliPhil was a mechanic, between jobs. Bea was disabled. They found a rent-to-own house in Dayton and the out-of-town landlords, who had bought it sight-unseen in an Internet foreclosure auction, told them they could move in if they could get in -- the owners had no keys.
    That would have been their quiet story, but a neighborhood youth gang confrontation on their street brought out police, and with them several news reporters, and a reporter got to know them. A story appeared in the local paper about them a few days later. Deep in the story, Phil said they hadn't been able to get heat turned on because of a faulty pipe in the basement.
    A Benefit Bank counselor read it. It sounded like a job for the Home Energy Assistance Program and its weatherization crew. A few days later, the completed application was on its way.
    And because the OBB is a many-faceted benefits screening program found in so many neighborhood agencies and places of worship, the staff also put itself to work finding volunteer help for Phil and Bea on the other fix-ups and repairs that their house needed.
    When you deal with The Ohio Benefit Bank, you don't get shoehorned into just one benefit.

Client Spotlight: Caroline, the veteran server
Charles Stough, OBB Counselor, City Heart, Dayton

It took Caroline a long time to get together the down payment on a 75-year-old house near the restaurant where she had worked for eight years. It was a beautiful stone place on a quiet, well-shaded street near parks and a museum. But her heating bills were oppressive.
    While doing her taxes, a Benefit Bank counselor showed her a Home Energy Assistance Program flyer. Tax prep segued into a HEAP application, which led to a food assistance application too.
    Within a couple of weeks the tax refund had arrived and Caroline had an invitation to bring documents to the local JFS office to proceed on her food stamps. There was little doubt that the HEAP application would pay off too.
    Yes, it took time to fill out all three applications, but her boyfriend Herb, a concrete mason, didn't mind waiting for a few more minutes. He had a nice chair, free refreshments -- and lined up a well-paid porch repair job that the wife of the OBB counselor had been nagging about all winter.


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