As many as one-third of working Americans do not earn enough money to meet their basic needs. These individuals are walking a financial tightrope – they are barely able to get by, with no ability to save for college, a home, or for retirement. With your help, United Way is working to cut the number of lower-income families who are financially unstable, and put them on the road to economic independence.
The community and family issues that stem from the economic and financial pressures facing individuals and their families are growing increasingly complex and more difficult to address. Wages have not kept pace with the rising cost of housing, healthcare, and education in many areas, and skill levels have not stayed in alignment with changing industry needs. As a result, more than 14.5 percent of the U.S. population has an income below the federal poverty level, in spite of the fact that many are employed, some with two or three jobs.
The United Way Financial Stability Partnership was created to strengthen communities by identifying and tacking the underlying causes of the financial hardship facing today’s families. United Ways bring together cross-sector partners to help lower-income individuals and families achieve financial independence by empowering them with the tools and skills necessary to maximize their income, build savings and gain assets.
How Are We Doing It?
The first step in our Financial Stability Framework is to maximize income. The way we have chosen to do this in Williams County is through the Ohio Benefit Bank – an Internet-based, counselor assisted FREE service that connects low- and moderate-income families to tax credits and work supports. As a response to the declining economic plight facing thousands of Ohioans, The Ohio Benefit Bank connects individuals and families to the support they need where they live, work, play, and pray.
The Ohio Benefit Bank is supported through a public-private partnership between the State of Ohio, the Ohio Association of Second Harvest Foodbanks (OASHF) and Ohio’s foodbanks as well as over 1,100 faith-based, nonprofit, governmental and private partners. The creation of this service as a tool to assist those in need has put the state of Ohio in the forefront of fighting hunger and poverty, while linking those in need to the supports that help in their day to day lives.
In Williams County, United Way of Williams County serves as the umbrella organization. Those in need are matched with local volunteer counselors who can help prepare their taxes and help them access work supports such as food stamps, health insurance, HEAP, and more.
The OBB takes numerous, complex and lengthy tax and benefits forms and reduces them to simple, easy-to-understand questions written at a fourth-grade level. At OBB sites, trained counselors guide clients through questions seeking information needed for tax returns and to project eligibility for work support tax credits and public benefits. Individuals sit side-by-side with counselors who assist them with entering information into an internet-based system. Once an OBB client provides all necessary information, the answers to the questions posed by the counselor populate the fields in the appropriate tax and benefits forms. The results are legible, accurate tax returns and benefits forms ready for submission to the appropriate government agency.