The Ohio Benefit Bank Newsletter March 2010
locRaising the Bar in Northeast Ohio through Local Collaboration

Last year, Ohio Benefit Bank sites in Portage County brought $65,895 in federal and state tax refunds to their communities in the month of February.
 
In February of this year, Portage County OBB sites nearly doubled that amount, bringing $130,030 in tax refunds to Northeast Ohio. Much of Portage County's success can be attributed to the Community Action Council (CAC) of Portage County.
 
When Community Trainer Joree Jacobs met with David Shea and Judy Conway of the CAC, CAC Portage Logothey expressed their desire to step up to the plate in 2010 to make Ohio Benefit Bank services more accessible to local community members. One of the ways in which they hoped to increase access was by hosting several free tax clinics on Saturdays during tax season.
 
As soon as the CAC began marketing its tax clinics, calls began flooding their phone lines. With this, CAC realized that more volunteer OBB counselors would be needed to supplement its trained staff members. Luckily, Joree had a connection with an AmeriCorps *VISTA member named Nichelle Shuck, who serves with Ohio Campus Compact at Kent State University.
 
"Nichelle was able to connect me with several student volunteers who were looking to satisfy a service learning requirement for one of their courses at Kent State," reported Joree. "Those five student CAC of Portage volunteers added the extra OBB support that the CAC of Portage County was seeking. The result was a collaboration that proved worthwhile for the Kent State students, the CAC, and the Portage County community as a whole."
 
During its first two successful tax clinics, the CAC of Portage County saw 66 clients for a total of $94,885 in tax refunds. And with two additional tax clinics scheduled in March, the CAC of Portage County will continue to raise the bar through local collaboration in Northeast Ohio.

uwSite Spotlight: United Way of Muskingum, Perry, and Morgan Counties

The United Way of Muskingum, Perry, and Morgan Counties (UWMPM) first got involved with The Benefit Bank in the late fall of 2007, just before tax season.  Amy Davis, Financial Stability Partnership Coordinator, was one of the first counselors trained for her site, and really saw the potential of TBB to serve the residents of Muskingum County.  Now in its third tax season, UWMPM has organized a self-sufficient network of community volunteers who operate numerous tax clinics every year.  Growing from a single Super Saturday tax clinic in 2008 to adding many smaller clinics in 2009 and 2010, UWMPM's involvement in taxes has grown considerably.   In 2008 and 2009 UWMPM  held the record for the largest tax clinic, their Super Saturday tax clinic, where over 50 clients were served in three hours!

Amy Davis has pulled together a great group of volunteers - several in their third year of volunteering - and the United Way of Muskingum, Perry, and Morgan has made a tremendous impact on their community.  As of the end of February, United Way's OBB counselors assisted over 140 clients and filed returns with refunds worth over $270,000!  Keep up the great work, and we look forward to your continued success!
mediMedina County JFS Generates over $270,000 In Refunds

Medina County Job and Family Service (MCJFS) hosted 3 tax clinics bringing in over $270,000
Medina JFS Clinic
in tax refunds. Fourteen trained MCJFS staff provided services on three Saturdays in February and March to help with the clinics.  

First Merit Bank of Medina was also available on site to help those customer's without a bank account by offering to open a Reality Checking or Savings for only $1.00 deposit.   MCJFS clinics were a big success and customer's were thankful for the opportunity to submit their taxes through E-File at no cost.  
callNumbers from The Ohio Benefit Bank Call Center

The OBB statewide hotline takes calls from Ohioans all over the state who are in crisis and looking for assistance with health care costs, food needs, utility bills, child care, free tax filing and more. OBB hotline specialists refer callers to OBB sites around the state for assistance in completing and submitting benefit applications and to other service providers.
 
In 2008 the hotline took 16,884 calls.
Last year the 1-800 hotline took over 52,000 calls.
In January 2010 alone, the hotline took 36,687 calls!

A snapshot of OBB Hotline Callers, January & February
Of 426 callers who reported they were not working: 92% said they did not receive unemployment.  86% reported that they or a household member exhausted their unemployment benefits without finding another job.  And 61% reported their home is currently in foreclosure.

We also asked callers to tell us how they are coping. About one-third of callers reported they are using check cashing or Payday Loan Services.

cliesptClient Spotlight: Cook's Helper
Charles Stough, OBB counselor, City Heart, Dayton

Geraldine was a newly hired cook in a restaurant where the staff has used Benefit Bank tax prep services in the past, so on her colleagues' advice, she came to City Heart in Dayton. She hadn't worked for about five months but had a small income from a previous restaurant job, and certainly had a refund coming. She also has a teenage son, which qualified her for the EITC. She had guessed that she would get about $2,000 back, but The Benefit Bank said she was to get state and federal refunds of about $4,200.

The OBB counselor noted that she probably also qualified for emergency food aid and asked if she would like to explore that. She shrugged, mildly interested, and said, "Well, my ride won't be here for a while, so why not?"

Did she ever qualify. OBB's calculation was that she was potentially eligible for $235 a month in food assistance. Her eyes bugged as the application zipped over to the job center electronically.  Getting that benefit will double her disposable income.

It was a good outcome but not unusual in cases of people who work in the hospitality industry. This is a group of working poor, very self-reliant people, who don't think about seeking public benefits. When an OBB counselor connects them with something like Food Assistance or HEAP, it is a most satisfying experience for the counselor too.

The counselor asked Geraldine if she wanted the tax refund sent straight to her bank account. She said, "I don't have any money. Why would I have a bank account?"
She'll wait for her refund checks to arrive in the mail, but she'll have a bank account next year.

comicEvan and Wyatt and the Magical, Dessert-Enlarging Pennywhistle
a comic strip by Charles Stough


Have you ever wished you could magically double the size of a great dessert? In Charley Stough's comic strip, a couple of kids use magical pennywhistles to do just that. Stough was a VISTA with OASHF in 2007-08 and now serves as an OBB Counselor for City Heart in Dayton.
Evan and Wyatt



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