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Free Service Helps Some in Ohio "Crunch their Numbers"

The Ohio Benefit Bank helps nearly 35,000 families file their income-tax returns each year. (Ohio Assn. of Foodbanks)
The Ohio Benefit Bank helps nearly 35,000 families file their income-tax returns each year. (Ohio Assn. of Foodbanks)
January 27, 2017

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Tax time is here, but not all Ohioans have the knowledge or will to prepare their own income-tax returns, or the money to pay a professional. Some might qualify for free tax-prep services through The Ohio Benefit Bank.

The program connects taxpayers to certified counselors who can assist with local, state and federal tax returns. Martin Terry, associate director of work support initiatives with the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, which runs the Ohio Benefit Bank, said the service has been around since 2006 and now assists nearly 35,000 families each year.

"We started out just doing a few thousand returns. We've grown the past few years at least 10 percent every year," Terry said. "Last year, we hit our peak where we served 30,000 state returns and over 30,000 federal returns, and returned tens of millions of dollars to the community in the form of refunds."

To be eligible for tax assistance through the Ohio Benefit Bank, filers must earn $65,000 or less annually, or $95,000 or less for married couples filing jointly. Returns can be filed online or by appointment with a local tax counselor. Program information is online at ohiobenefits.org.

Terry said the tax service helps ensure that eligible families claim tax credits and incentives, including the Earned Income Tax Credit, a tax incentive for working families that helps keep some people out of poverty.

"For some families, it's 20 to 25 percent of their income for the year, all at once," he said. "It keeps them afloat. A lot of bills they might have had stacking up, they're able to get caught up. It really helps to stabilize their financial situation for many families."

Today is EITC Awareness Day, and last year, 26 million people received more than $65 billion in federal EITC refunds. Ohio also has a state EITC that some advocates say should be expanded to include childless low-wage workers in addition to families.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH