The Benefit Bank of North Carolina launched in 2010 to combine grassroots outreach and use of technology by community-based organizations to connect low-income households with underutilized work, health, and income supports.
With support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation (ZSR), MDC and the UNC-Chapel Hill Department of Public Policy published a feasibility study on replicating a successful model from Ohio for community-based organizations to use The Benefit Bank to connect low-income households with work and income supports. With support from ZSR, the Kate B. Reynolds Charitable Trust, and the Mary Reynolds Babcock Foundation, MDC designed an implementation model for North Carolina.
The project was launched in 2010 at the height of the Great Recession. The initial implementation included use of federal stimulus funds from the State of North Carolina to deploy 150 counselors in the field to connect struggling families with supports. Legal Aid sponsored 100 of these counselors, who were clients experiencing foreclosure. Once the counselors were employed, Legal Aid was able to resolve their foreclosures cases.
Beginning with the launch, Regional Coordinators recruited community-based organizations to sponsor “sites” and trained volunteers and staff from those organizations to serve as counselors to offer and use The Benefit Bank to low-income households to apply for work and income supports. At the height of The Benefit Bank of North Carolina’s statewide outreach infrastructure, there were more than 250 enrollment sites sponsored by community-based organizations and over 850 trained counselors, serving in 74 counties, using outreach strategies and The Benefit Bank to connect low-income households with work and income supports, as shown on the following map.
The counselors used The Benefit Bank to connect economically vulnerable households with work, health, and income supports in the form of tax credits, public benefits, and student financial aid. These services were tightly integrated with and enhanced the existing operations of the nonprofit organizations hosting and sponsoring The Benefit Bank counselors.
The Benefit Bank of North Carolina expanded across the state with support from The Duke Endowment, the Open Society Institute, and the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. Since 2010, The Benefit Bank of North Carolina has helped low-income households apply for work and income supports worth more than $75 million.
In addition to the monetary ROI, The Benefit Bank of North Carolina generates social ROI because published research shows that connecting economically vulnerable populations to these available resources is proven to:
- Reduce poverty
- Enhance financial stability
- Increase educational performance and attainment
- Increase employment and boost wage growth
- Increase upward economic mobility
- Improve health outcomes
As a consequence of the claimed resources and collateral impacts, on the basis of the research above, MDC expects that TBB-NC clients experienced greater financial stability and resilience than would be the case absent our efforts and will be better positioned to move forward economically.
In 2013, the State of North Carolina ended the partnership with The Benefit Bank of North Carolina (TBB-NC). When the state benefits eligibility determination system changed, county Division of Social Service (DSS) offices began to discourage the filing of paper applications for public benefits from The Benefit Bank. MDC made several proposals for state funding and enabling of electronic submission of benefits applications from The Benefit Bank to be allowed to be electronically submitted into the state benefits eligibility determination system (just as state taxes are electronically filed with the North Carolina Department of Revenue). These proposals were not successful. MDC decided to suspend offing public benefits applications through The Benefit Bank in North Carolina in 2013.
Since 2013, MDC focused TBB-NC on offering the online service to low- and moderate-income North Carolina households for them to complete and electronically file their federal and state income tax returns at no charge. TBB-NC’s services were provided through community-based locations sponsored by local nonprofit organizations and directly online to the public via a self-service module.
Free income tax assistance through TBB-NC served an important addition to the IRS-funded Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program in North Carolina. TBB-NC offered free assistance to a broader range of the public because TBB-NC's income limit ($95,000) is much higher than VITA's ($60,000). VITA is not available in 60, mostly rural, North Carolina counties. TBB-NC served tax clients in 99 of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
For more than five years, MDC has sought to secure state funding to support sustaining TBB-NC and enabling electronic submission, which would have allowed MDC to restore public benefits access through TBB-NC (including Food Stamps, Medicaid, and Children’s Health Insurance). While there was genuine interest at times, these efforts were unsuccessful by the time that the developer and provider of The Benefit Bank online service, Communally, decided to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in July 2019 due to similar funding challenges across multiple jurisdictions. This leaves the future operation of The Benefit Bank online service, and hence TBB-NC, very uncertain.
Free tax assistance:
- E-File Options for Individuals
- Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) locator
- AARP Tax Assistance Locator
Student financial aid: