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Tax prep assistance, other programs available

Benefit Bank counselors find ways to help those struggling financially

By Richard Heck
Feb. 6, 2009

Today’s economy has forced many who never thought they would need assistance scrambling for help. Yet many people who are financially struggling may not even know that help is available.

For example, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks reports that more than $1.6 million in tax credits and other benefits go unclaimed by eligible Ohioans who do not apply.

The Ohio Benefit Bank is a free program that links low- and moderate-income Ohioans to potential support systems, such as tax preparation help, health care coverage, home energy assistance, child care subsidies and food stamps. The program partners with hundreds of sites in Ohio, offering more than 4,300 trained counselors across the state.

“Many people don’t even know that they’re eligible for these programs,” said Nancy Schell, program coordinator for OU-COM's ComCorps program, a part of both the college's Community Health Program's and the statewide Ohio Benefit Bank .

“There also are people who know they may be eligible, but haven’t sought out the benefits,” Schell said, noting that the vast array of benefits and programs can be difficult to navigate. “We serve as an intermediary to give them options—a sort of one-stop information gathering tool.”

The Ohio Benefit Bank is offered through a public-private partnership among the governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks. During the past two years, more than 26,000 Ohioans using the Ohio Benefit Bank claimed more than $28 million in tax credits and other benefits.

At OU-COM’s Community Health Programs, ComCorps counselors utilize the Benefit Bank’s web-based program to identify the benefits an individual is eligible to receive, and they work one-on-one with people to complete program applications.

According to COMCorps counselor Emily Eschmeyer, because the Ohio Benefit Bank is web-based, some people are hesitant to disclose personal information. “But the program is completely secure and confidential, and it is endorsed by Gov. Strickland.”

According to Schell, the rules change yearly for many programs and services. “Someone who applied and was not eligible for a benefit before may be eligible now,” she said.

Sarah Mann, another ComCorps Benefit Bank counselor, noted that some Ohio University students also may be eligible for certain programs. During the past week, counselors worked with two Ohio students, Mann said, and the ComCorps volunteers are working with the Graduate Student Senate to encourage graduate students to take advantage of the program.

With the arrival of tax season, ComCorps volunteers and the Ohio Benefit Bank can help with the process of filing tax returns, often identifying additional refund opportunities.

For information about the Ohio Benefit Bank tax services or to schedule an appointment, contact the OU-COM Community Health Programs at 1-800-844-2654.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016