On Valentine’s Day afternoon in Toledo, Ohio, Sarah Wenninger walked into an Ohio Benefit Bank (OBB) site for the first time. Referred by a co-worker; Wenninger looked for 2016 tax filing help through ProMedica. What she walked in for was just some basic help filing her taxes. What she got was life-changing.

“I was amazed to find out that I could file as a ‘head of household’ even though the law restricts me from claiming my two children,” said Wenninger. I have my kids a majority of the time and am the primary caregiver but due to a horrible attorney’s representation and according to my divorce decree, I will never be able to claim my boys.”

Despite Sarah’s unfortunate circumstances, the OBB site was able to help her claim over $4,000 on her 2016 tax return; a number that positively flabbergasted Wenninger. “I completely broke down in gratitude and disbelief, until the check hit my account. It gave me the money needed to fund my children’s tuition.

“Michelle (an OBB counselor) also directed me to a tax specialist who looked at my returns from the past three years, and I was stunned to discover that I was owed an additional $9,813. I cannot thank OBB enough for offering the free tax service along with experienced, friendly, knowledgeable and thorough counselors.”

For 11 years, The Benefit Bank® (TBB), an online service of Solutions for Progress (SfP), has been helping individuals file their federal, and in select states, state individual income tax returns for free. TBB makes filing income taxes easy with step-by-step guidance in both self-serve and counselor-assisted platforms. While visiting a TBB site to file their taxes, families can use TBB’s screening tool, QuickCheck, to check eligibility for various state and federal benefits and then apply for those benefits – without having to re-enter their data a second time.

TBB is crucial to SfP achieving its mission – directly helping low- and moderate-income individuals and families escape the daily crisis of poverty and reach a place where they can make significant choices about where they live, where they work, the education they or their children receive and how they manage their household finances.

In Tax Year 2016, TBB helped nearly 40,000 tax filers at approximately 2,000 sites complete their federal tax returns during the tax filing season. Nearly 85% of these tax filers were due federal refunds totaling close to $61 million. Additionally, just over 38,000 people filed state income tax returns in North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia. Nearly 35% of all TBB federal tax filers were eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit, totaling over $23 million, and just under 4% claimed the ACA healthcare marketplace-related premium tax credit.

During this most recent filing season, TBB counselors were busy helping clients with more than just tax returns. There were nearly 10,000 TBB visitors that used QuickCheck during the filing period to assess their eligibility for federal and state benefits. This number shows an increase in usage from the months before the tax filing season and demonstrates the importance of the connection of TBB’s many work supports and public benefits to help fight poverty.

For many clients, QuickCheck or tax filing is the first introduction to TBB. From there, individuals, assisted by one of the nearly 5,500 trained TBB counselors, can learn about other services offered through TBB and may also end up applying for public benefits, such as health coverage, food, and cash assistance.

We would like to thank our TBB affiliates, sites and each and every TBB counselor for their hard work and dedication, especially during tax season. TBB’s streamlined approach to providing access to public benefits and tax filing is a proven tool in combating poverty where it is most pervasive. With our partners and the many other organizations doing similar work, we hope to end poverty in the United States.

Did you forget to file for the 2016 tax year? You can use TBB to electronically file until late November of this year. To use TBB Self-Serve – available in all states – click here. In North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia, you can use TBB’s site locator to find organizations that have TBB trained counselors to assist with tax filing.

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