United Way 2-1-1

Reflections on the Evolution of United Way 2-1-1

United Way’s 2-1-1 Help Center is a vital safety net that provides free, compassionate and expert assistance to anybody in need of health and human services. 2-1-1 Community Navigators answer calls 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to develop a plan of action and make referrals for our clients.

The month of February, which includes the significant celebratory date of 2-11, affords an opportunity to help you understand more about how United Way 2-1-1 solves problems and builds stronger communities.

United Way 2-1-1 Director Diane Gatto shares her thoughts in this article.

Looking back over a 20-plus year career with United Way 2-1-1, I think about its evolution and its purpose. Who has it helped and how far do we still have to go?

What United Way 2-1-1 is all about

At its core, 2-1-1 exists to help people. Everyone at some point in their lives needs a little support, information and options. It’s easy to take a great family or support system for granted. It’s tempting to think accessing help is simple and barriers to service don’t exist.

Each day at 2-1-1 we hear very personal stories from people whose lives are complicated, who genuinely desire to make their lives better, and who struggle to connect with the services they need. The situations that drive people to ask for help – illness, job loss, or just living on very little day after day – could happen to anyone. A simple event or policy shift could impact your world instantly.

“Our goal is to make them feel just a little bit better, supported, understood. To give hope where we can.”

I’ve watched our staff respond to foreclosures and floods. I’ve watched them guide distressed clients through changes in health care and public benefits. I’ve seen how upheavals and disruptions in government services that might go unnoticed, like the elimination of Disability Financial Assistance, are brought to light through the stories of our clients and the savviness of our staff.

It takes talented people to understand these changes and to help people devise solutions. You have to make an instant connection, build rapport and earn trust. You must demonstrate knowledge. You must treat people with dignity and without judgment. You must recognize they took the right step by contacting you and that they should not feel ashamed. Your goal is to make them feel just a little bit better, supported and understood. To give hope where you can.

Compassionate, dedicated experts make it happen

United Way Cleveland 211 Office

Our staff deserves to be celebrated. Whether responding directly to clients, conducting research, generating reports, managing, coordinating, scheduling, delivering presentations, performing quality assurance or managing telephone and data systems – all of that comes together for the same purpose: to help the client.

We want to see systems improve for people. Our staff wants to lend their voice to say, “it would be great to have a food pantry in this eastside neighborhood on a Saturday afternoon.” We have the ability to be the advocates for expanded transportation options or greater rent assistance for people who become ill and no longer able to work. We can harness that collective voice for the betterment of our community and those in need.

The evolution of 2-1-1 must involve sharing more of what we learn. Getting out into the community more. Closing the loop to ensure people get the services they need.

During this month of celebrating 2-1-1, I have high hopes for a system that continues to serve individuals well and helps to better coordinate our social service delivery system, improving access and care.

Thank you to our staff and to everyone who has supported 2-1-1 all these years. Count on us to be there, with compassionate hearts and determination, to help our clients overcome obstacles and move forward with their lives.

About Diane Gatto

United Way 2-1-1 Diane GattoDiane holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from Cleveland State University and a Master of Science in Social Administration from Case Western Reserve University. She has completed post-graduate coursework in Library Science, Computer Science and Law.

She is currently employed as 2-1-1 Director for United Way of Greater Cleveland and has 20 years of experience in social services, data management and operations. Under Diane’s leadership, 2-1-1 has more than doubled its staff and geographic footprint – now providing service for 26 counties, with a staff of 80 and a budget of more than $3 million.

Diane recently (2017) conceptualized and co-authored a $4.5 million federal grant to embed 2-1-1 in hospitals and health centers, helping to address the social needs of Medicare and Medicaid patients.


Getting the most out of your tax return

By Kathy Matthews, senior program director with Enterprise Community Partners

VITA and EITC Tax Relief for People in NeedEvery year, millions of hardworking taxpayers fail to benefit from getting the most out of their taxes. It’s a given that tax time isn’t a time of year people look forward to, but why not make sure you get as much money back as possible?

One great way to ensure you keep more of what you earn is to take advantage of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable tax credit for low-and-moderate-income taxpayers. It helps millions of Americans get a larger tax refund to pay for things like reliable transportation to and from work, adequate and safe housing and putting healthy meals on the table.

Nationwide during 2017, more than 25.8 million eligible workers and families received about $63.8 billion in EITC refunds, with an average amount of $2,470. The EITC is one of the nation’s largest and most effective anti-poverty programs, lifting millions of families out of poverty each year.

The Cuyahoga EITC Coalition supported by Cuyahoga County Job & Family Services, United Way of Greater Cleveland, the IRS, many financial institutions, and hundreds of volunteers, help people claim the EITC at tax time. Just last year, the Coalition and its partners, through the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program and MyFreeTaxes.com, helped connect more than 5,000 people in Cuyahoga County to roughly $7 million in EITC tax refunds – money coming right back into our community and being spent at local businesses. This ultimately bolsters our local economy and makes our community an even greater place to call home.

“The EITC and the Child Tax Credit (CTC) can make a real difference for workers who are struggling to make ends meet,” said Diane Gatto, director of United Way 2-1-1.

Free tax prep services for you

Beginning, January 20, 2018, the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition is offering free tax preparation services to working families at 21 tax sites throughout Cuyahoga County. Because workers move into and out of eligibility based on changes in their marital, parental and financial status, millions of workers will qualify for the EITC for the first time this year, making awareness of this important tax credit critical. At a VITA site, individuals can get free help determining their EITC and CTC eligibility and claiming these important tax credits.

EITC Awareness Day tax events

The Coalition is raising awareness of these services by hosting an EITC Awareness Day event on January 26 at Gordon Square from 1:30 p.m. – 8 p.m. There are also several Super Saturday events scheduled with:

  • CHN Housing Partners, hosted by St. Ignatius High School and sponsored by Key Bank on February 3
  • Neighborhood Housing Services of Greater Cleveland, hosted by Cleveland Central Catholic High School and sponsored by Third Federal Savings & Loan on February 10
  • Notre Dame College, sponsored by Ohio Savings Bank, a division of New York Community Bank on February 17

Join us and take part in EITC Awareness Day to learn how you can get more out of your tax return. We also hope you will advocate expanding the EITC for those roughly 7.5 million Americans who are ineligible, who are actually taxed into poverty as a result.

Are you eligible?

To check your eligibility for the EITC, visit www.irs.gov/eitc. To find a VITA site near you or schedule an appointment, dial 2-1-1 or visit refundohio.org to learn more.

About Kathy Matthews

Kathy Matthews - Enterprise CoalitionKathy Matthews, a Senior Program Director with Enterprise Community Partners, has led the Cuyahoga EITC Coalition for the last twelve years.  Ms. Matthews is well versed in the administration and operation of Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites and provides oversight for 400+ IRS certified volunteers and 25 VITA locations. Since its inception in 2005, the Coalition has prepared over 107,000 income tax returns resulting in $144M refunds for low and moderate-income families living in Cuyahoga County.

Prior to joining Enterprise, Ms. Matthews has over 18 years of corporate work experience in the financial industry in Cleveland and Chicago. During her corporate tenure, she held various leadership roles within the retail, commercial, and client services business units. Her experiences include several management positions along with time spent leading corporate-wide, diverse, revenue generating and expense reduction initiatives.

Ms. Matthews has a bachelor’s degree in English and Psychology from John Carroll University.  Ms. Matthews is a founding member of OutRun Ovarian Cancer (OROC) – a volunteer-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to raising ovarian cancer awareness and money for research and education. She also dedicates her volunteer time in support of several schools located throughout the Cleveland area and most recently, served as a volunteer for Catholic Charities Migration and Refugee Services.


United Way ALICEWe all know ALICE. They’re the hard-working people who make us feel at home in our communities. They’re the cashier at your grocery store; the waitress at your favorite restaurant; the teller at your local bank; the teacher at your child’s daycare; and the single mom working two part-time jobs.

The newly released ALICE report by Ohio United Way paints a detailed picture of financial instability in each Ohio county. ALICE – Asset-Limited, Income-Constrained, Employed – represents 27 percent of the households in Ohio that bring home a paycheck that is insufficient to cover the basic necessities of housing, food, child care, healthcare, and transportation.  When combined with the number of households living under the federal poverty level, the total percentage of Ohio families struggling to afford basic needs rises to 40 percent.

The voices of ALICE

United Way Greater Cleveland hears the voice of ALICE from 26 counties across the state, 24 hours per day/ 7 days a week, when they call our 2-1-1 Helpline seeking assistance for issues such as food, rent, utilities or medication. They tell us about the challenges they face and they ask for help.  We tell them about the government and nonprofits programs that offer solutions and opportunity.  We make the important and meaningful connections between people and services that can change a person’s life for the better.

Who needs to listen?

As government struggles with their own financial stability challenges at the local, state and federal level, we hope they will listen closely to the voices of ALICE.

United Way of Greater Cleveland, with community partners, strives to raise up the voices of ALICE and those living in poverty to our elected officials and regulatory administrators.  We want to help them consider the impact of their decisions on our most vulnerable families.  If income or sales tax is raised, how will it affect those who are barely making ends meet? If funding for food and utility assistance is cut, will children go to bed cold and hungry? If payday lending is reformed, will it change the financial trajectory of ALICE households?  If the Earned Income Tax Credit is expanded how will it impact those walking on a financial tightrope?

What are we doing to impact ALICE?

In Cuyahoga, Medina and Geauga counties – United Way of Greater Cleveland’s three-county footprint – we are working with Fortune 500 companies, small businesses, committed community volunteers and dedicated staff to fight poverty and create financial stability in our community.

We will use the ALICE report to:

  • Remove stigmas/stereotypes associated with the “working poor,” who are struggling, hard-working taxpayers who deserve help
  • Protect the safety net and advocate for strategies to help a family cope with an emergency and prevent a spiral into poverty
  • Advocate for long-term strategies to help families achieve and maintain financial stability

This isn’t just a household problem; it’s a community problem.  How can Ohio thrive when over one-third of our state lives below the federal poverty level and/or don’t earn enough to make a bare-minimum household “survival budget?”

What can you do with us?

It is incumbent upon all of us to help ALICE families avoid being one crisis away from spiraling into poverty.

Stability in the lives of ALICE is positive for companies that employ them and helps stabilize the economic fabric of our community. Lawmakers, schools, businesses and social service agencies all need to come together to raise awareness, remove barriers and create long-term solutions.

That’s what democracy is all about –  citizens, businesses and government coming together in a non-partisan manner to resolve community problems. We hope you will join the movement and help our ALICE individuals and families prosper by visiting www.unitedwaycleveland.org/ALICE.

To learn more about what United Way of Greater Cleveland is doing to address poverty in northeast Ohio, sign up to receive our community newsletter.


Free air conditioners to combat summer heat for those in need

By Taneisha Fair,United Way 2-1-1 community resource navigation specialist

Taneisha Fair HeadshotIn the midst of the summer heat, many individuals and families have to suffer without air conditioning, which is particularly detrimental for a segment of the population with health risks. However, free air conditioners are being offered through HEAP’s Summer Crisis program again this summer.

HEAP provides payment assistance for electric bills, in addition to air conditioner units and repairs for those who may need cooling assistance to benefit their health.  Common examples of conditions that may qualify include: COPD, asthma and lung disease.

Medical issues like these may leave many without enough income to pay for utility bills, due to extended time out of work, high medical bills and/or low disability payments.

The program is open to income-eligible individuals who are 60 and older, or to those who can provide medical documentation for a certified health condition.  Households with a member who meets the eligibility requirements can also apply.  Residents enrolled in the Percentage of Income Payment Plan Plus Program (PIPP) are not eligible to receive assistance through this program, but may call United Way 2-1-1 to find some additional resources.

The Summer Crisis Program will be available from July 1 through August 31 and can be used only once during the season. This year, it will be provided by the Council for Economic Opportunities in Greater Cleveland (CEOGC) HEAP office, located at 1849 Prospect Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44115.

Residents can call the 24-hour line at (216) 518-4014 to make an appointment, or can walk-in Monday-Friday starting at 6:30 a.m. For additional information on the program and necessary documentation, call the Ohio Development Services Agency at (800) 282-0880 or dial 2-1-1 to speak with a navigation specialist.

Free meals during school break for our youth

By Taneisha Fair, community resource navigation specialist, United Way 2-1-1 

Taneisha Fair HeadshotSummer is here, leaving Greater Cleveland kids and teens excited for warm weather. Some are anxious for family trips and barbecues and others about replacing the meals normally eaten at school, which is now lost over summer break.

Feeding America reports four out of five of the more than 22 million children who receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch at school will not have access to these meals over summer break. Fortunately, there are community programs to help.

The Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), a federal program, has filled this gap for more than 40 years. SFSP prevents summer hunger by supplying free and nutritious meals to those 18 and younger from low-income households while school is out of session. Individuals who are over 18 with mental and physical disabilities and involved in school programs are also eligible for the free lunch.

Meal sites operate in various locations throughout the community as “open,” “enrolled,” or “camp” sites. Open sites are usually in low-income communities, but are available to any child in the community. Enrolled sites provide free meals to children who participate in an activity or program at the site. Camps that participate in SFSP can receive a payment to cover meals for children who are eligible for free or reduced-price meals.

Many do not know access to free meals for their children is just a phone call away! Residents can call the National Hunger Hotline at 1-866-3-HUNGRY or 1-877-8-HAMBRE to identify their local sites. There are other helpful resources, such as food pantries and hot meals that callers can learn about by dialing 2-1-1 or 216-436-2000.

Shining a light on our Veterans, the sacrifices they have made

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are roughly 77,000 veterans living in Cuyahoga County, with nearly 200,000 across Northeast Ohio. This is a significant number of people who have sacrificed in so many ways to protect our freedom and way of life.

Adrianne at 211 Booth DOS-WEB

What many people do not realize is that many of our brave veterans come home facing immense challenges – from PTSD and chronic anxiety to struggles fitting into society and finding work. Even though there are many programs and services available to our veterans in need, many people are not aware they exist and how to best utilize them.

To bridge the gap between veterans’ issues and the solutions that are available, United Way of Greater Cleveland, in partnership with Cuyahoga Community College and the “Stokes: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future” 50th anniversary commemoration, hosted its first Veteran’s Day of Service for veterans throughout Cuyahoga County.

The Day of Service offered veterans an opportunity to discover myriad resources available to them based on their individual needs. College students within public health-related programs from Cleveland State University, John Carroll University and NEOMED volunteered, to help screen and identify needs and direct veterans to programs and services available to them.

Once the intake screening process concluded, attendees were personally escorted to each of the 28 booths offering services specific to their predetermined needs. The many participating agencies and organizations provided services ranging from basic needs (housing, food, shelter, ID cards) to VA benefits, job placement and education programs, among many others.

“It was an awesome experience to be able to support our veterans in need,” said United Way 2-1-1 Veteran’s Line Coordinator Tim Grealis, also a veteran who served in the U.S. Air Force. “To be able to help my fellow armed service members, especially the ones who are really struggling, is a powerful and gratifying experience. I’m looking forward to next year’s event and helping even more of my fellow vets.”

My time serving our country in the face of war: The journey of a Vietnam veteran turned newsman

Leon Bibb HeadshotBy Leon Bibb, anchor and reporter at WEWS-TV, News Channel 5

It was the mid-1960s, resting in the midst of an ongoing war in North Vietnam as well as in South Vietnam, and tempers in the United States swayed like a wispy weeping willow. This tree had no secrets to tell though. All of us knew of the fight because the war had a total of 3 million Americans involved in it over the period of a decade. In the war in Vietnam, 59,000 Americans were killed.

This seemingly endless war most certainly took its toll on so many in the U.S. and all over the world. It was our war; their war; a war that put us side-by-side with our Southern Vietnamese allies in a time of great hope, as well as great despair.

I was in my youth at the time; not quite 22 years old. My life was ahead of me. I had dreams of furthering my ambitions as a reporter in our great city of Cleveland. After graduating from Bowling Green State University in 1966 with a degree in journalism, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to take on a full-time job at the Plain Dealer. I can tell you this was a proud moment in my life. To be a staff writer, gathering and reporting the news of our region, to the great people of our region, was to put it mildly an awesome responsibility.

We all watched as the war continued to rage on. It took so many lives that it was a paralyzing force to watch. Everyone was hoping the war would just end with honor,  but it kept going on and on. At some point the war in Vietnam  had to reach out and touch me I thought.

My call had finally come

As it would stand, it did do just that. One afternoon while working on a story at the PD, my mother called with a distinctive concern in her voice. I had received a letter from the Selective Service. Since I was living at home with my parents at the time, the letter to came to our Cleveland address. At the time, the letter came addressed to me, my mother theorized what it was because it was from the Selective Service – the draft. Holding the envelope, my mother called me at work, insisting that she open it for me. Knowing what it would say, I replied to her that “I’ll take a look at it
when I come home mother.”Selective Service System Seal

As suspected, she resisted my request to leave the letter for me to open it later that day. My mother broke the seal and read what the government had sent me.  As I remained on the phone waiting patiently, her nervousness practically palpable, she opened the letter and began to cry. “They’re drafting you… they want you… you gotta go [to basic training] next month!”

The news was, of course, troubling for me, yet expected.  During those times, I inwardly understood the draft would be almost a certainty. When I came home that evening, we sat down and simply talked about the letter and what was to come. There was some solace in the words my father shared that evening though. As a World War II veteran, draft shortly after Pearl Harbor, he imparted in me many of the most basic, yet memorable qualities and traits I should take with me on my military journey.

Although simple advice, it was relevant and resonated with me to this very day. Dad said “You’re gonna meet men of all walks of life. You’re gonna meet men who didn’t finish high school. You’re gonna be with men who graduated college… southern white boys and northern black boys… all kinds of people, but what’s important is to get along with people and do what the officers order you to do and learn to do your job.”

The support extended beyond my father. All of my uncles were in the military, as well as my soon to be father-in-law, his brothers, and other men in his life. They left a rich legacy of military honor and duty throughout the two families.

So there was nothing unusual about being drafted – it was just part of our lifestyle. If you talk to anyone from that time [a World War II veteran], just about every man of age was in the military. That knowledge was part of my growing up. That was the way it was.

Of course, I looked inward and reflected on this new reality that was sitting right in front of me. But, I kept telling myself “If the government called, it was my obligation to go. Who should go if I don’t go? So I answered the call. It was my duty.”

My time defending our nation

The day I was drafted, my father drove me down to the Standard Building in downtown Cleveland on Nov. 8 at 5:30 a.m. to report for duty. This was the place every area person who was drafted, or who enlisted, went to sign in. That vast pool of men who were in the military and served in the war that yielded such an uncertain future was astonishing. But I, and all of those other patriotic men, forged on to answer the call from our nation.

Within three months of receiving an earlier letter from Selective Service, I had gone through the physical exam, testing, and induction. I was basic trained and deployed. It was a whirlwind, all meant to prepare me to protect our country. Along the way, I would learn to do my job and survive against the enemy.

Only a few hours after my induction, when my feet hit Fort Benning, Georgia, where I underwent basic training, I thought to myself, “I am putting away civilian things now… I am now a soldier and that is what I do for a living.” The key was learning to do the things required of me so I could learn to defend myself, my country and have the best possible chance of coming home.

Leon Bibb on Patrol in VietnamAfter eight weeks of basic training, came eight more weeks of advance individual training in Fort Sill, Oklahoma. After that, I was assigned to a unit in Fort Sill. For the next few months, I served in an artillery unit until orders came for me to go to Vietnam.

In Vietnam, the initial plan was for me to be a truck driver within a convoy for the Fourth Infantry Division. However, I never made it to that job. I had mentioned to someone that I had a degree in journalism. To my surprise, I was something of a commodity. With that newfound knowledge, they assigned me to be a public information officer at a firebase in the middle of the jungle in a tent that had PIO on it.

Working for a full Colonel, I handled clerical work, writing, reports and combat photography. When I was not writing or taking photos, I still had to go out on patrol. I spent nights in the dark jungle, searching for the enemy or guarding the perimeter, watching for the enemy in the event of an ambush.

My two years went on in a similar fashion. I did my job, kept my head down and kept open lines of communication. Those were the traits my dad instilled in me during our chats leading up to my deployment and they served me greatly during those years of unease, fear, challenge and hope. That mentality allowed me to survive and to perform courageous acts beyond what I thought I could do. I still think about those words of wisdom to this day with fond memories and a full heart.

My return home, a lifetime of knowledge

When I returned home after being discharged in the fall of 1968, I was changed in many ways for the better. Being in the war and having those intense experiences made me more aware of the importance of life and how precious it truly is. I’d seen death in the reflection of men’s eyes and souls.

One of those reflections was personal. It was the death of a friend, who would now be my age were he to have survived. To know his life ended at the mere age of 21 is a powerful, heartbreaking and life-changing event that shed a light on the beauty of life.

During the past several years, I have been in touch with his parents and his sister. It was a bittersweet moment to reach them and begin communications.

It made me realize the importance of our military and that when we send our men and women, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters to war, some are not going to come back. This is the harsh reality. This is the reason we must make sure that whatever conflict the U.S. gets involved in is worth getting involved in for the betterment of our country and the world.

My resolve for supporting our veterans

I can say with certainty that we must support the troops we send into the field of battle every day and in every way. We must not just support them while active on the stages of war, but encourage and support them more vigorously when they return home. They are only following the orders of a nation. When they went and fired their weapons, their fingers were not the only fingers on the trigger. In a way, all of America’s fingers were on that trigger. It is our responsibility to welcome them back into society with open arms, open hearts, and open minds.

When they come home bruised, battered, troubled and emotionally devastated, we have to be there for them. We have to find ways to increase the support of our veterans, especially in these chaotic times, with programs and services, some of which United Way supports.

Fitting back into society is an even greater challenge now. Our veterans need emotional, physical, employment, and financial support, among a myriad of other needs. We must embrace them, hold them closely and shield them from harm in our attempts to help them find their ways. United Way serves in such a fashion to help those veterans in critical need.

Help2Veterans LogoIt all comes down to love. It is the love of fellow man, of humanity, and of our veterans. That is what United Way is all about – providing the love, care, resources and support so many veterans are desperately seeking. We can be their beacons of hope. We can and must treat U.S. military veterans with respect and help those who do not have voices find theirs. United Way can be one of the voices to help veterans find what they need and claim it. Let us be the love and the hope for our veterans.

About Leon Bibb

Leon Bibb Headshot Raised in Cleveland’s Glenville area, and a graduate of Glenville High School on the city’s east side, Bibb’s broadcasting career began during his student days at Bowling Green State University (BGSU). Following graduation, he worked as a newspaper reporter at The Plain Dealer.

Prior to joining WEWS-TV in 1995, Bibb worked at WKYC-TV as the weekend News Anchor and News Reporter starting in 1979. In 1986, he became Primary News Anchor for the Monday through Friday newscasts there.

He has narrated and hosted many shows at WEWS-TV, including “My Ohio with Leon Bibb,” “Leon Bibb’s Perspective,” “Kaleidoscope,” and a series called “Our Hometown.” Bibb has interviewed numerous political leaders and notable figures, including President Barack Obama, President George H. W. Bush, Neil Armstrong, and James Earl Ray, the convicted assassin of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Special Note: As a result of his exemplary service in the Vietnam War, he was awarded a Bronze Star.

*Photos courtesy of Leon Bibb and Selective Service Publications


EITC lifts working-poor, boosts local economies

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Tell congress to expand the earned income tax credit for American workers

United Way of Greater Cleveland, alongside others in an initiative sparked by United Way Worldwide, is advocating for the federal Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) expansion in this year’s Congressional tax reform debate.

In a letter to the editor published in The Plain Dealer, United Way President and CEO August Napoli applauded Sen. Sherrod Brown’s support to expand EITC to include childless workers and taxpayers ages 21-24.

In place since 1975, the federal EITC was made permanent last year, prompting organizations like United Way to lobby for its expansion. Currently, the federal EITC provides a refundable tax credit dependent on recipients’ income, marital status and number of children. The working poor with multiple children benefit the most. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), the average EITC refund for families with children for 2015 was $3,186 — effectively boosting wages by $265 a month.

“It’s a proven tool to reduce poverty and for keeping people out of poverty. For working families who benefit from EITC, studies show it helps make ends meet to buy necessities like food and gas, pay a medical bill or make car repairs.”

EITC income eligibility starts between $39,300 and $53,500 depending on the filer’s marital status and number of dependent children. Working poor with no children, whose income is below $14,900 alone or $20,400 for a married couple can receive a very small credit if over the age of 24. The tax credit phases in as a filer’s earnings move toward a maximum value, incentivizing people to leave welfare and for low-wage workers to increase their work hours, according to CBPP.

Research by Brookings Institute shows EITC has the power to lift families above the poverty line. From 2011 to 2013, Brookings estimates EITC kept 272,000 Ohioans out of poverty, more than 150,000 of those children.

Cuyahoga EITC Coalition, organized by Enterprise Community Partners, manages Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) services, another service for working poor made possible through EITC. VITA helps low-income households file their federal and state income taxes for free, saving EITC recipients from predatory or untrained tax preparation services that can eat into families’ refunds. United Way 2-1-1 schedules all VITA appointments for Cuyahoga County.

“If it was expanded for those people without children and 21-24-year-olds, it could help another 502,000 taxpayers in Ohio,” Feleppelle said. “This really benefits low-income and low-wage workers, so it will expand the help to that other half.”

‘Help 2 Veterans’ program celebrates three years, 26,657 veterans served in Cuyahoga County

By Carissa Woytach, United Way of Greater Cleveland Staff Writer

Help 2 Veterans Line and Tim Grealis

United Way 2-1-1’s Help 2 Veterans program services the more than 77,000 veterans in Cuyahoga County by connecting them and their families to social services and veteran-specific resources.

In its third year, the program has taken calls from 26,657 veterans or their family members through United Way 2-1-1, a free and confidential service providing 24-hour access to professionals who help clients find, understand and access community resources. The local United Way 2-1-1 serves 26 Ohio counties and covers 3.5 million people in the state, connecting them to social, economic and community services.

Tim Grealis, the Help 2 Veterans specialist, advocates for his fellow armed service members. Discharged from the U.S. Air Force in 1990, Grealis brings personal experience to the table, allowing him to have a one-on-one connection with clients.

Averaging 750 calls to Help 2 Veterans per month, clients are screened through 2-1-1 specialists, who, working through the person’s immediate needs, will escalate them to Grealis if they feel the client can benefit from veteran advocacy or further guidance.

“If the gas company needs called because we need to advocate a little for the vet, I can call the gas company on behalf of the vet,” he explained.

I know how hard it was when I was laid off and the things I had to do to make ends meet.”

Funded through Cuyahoga County via the Veterans Service Commission, Help 2 Veterans allows Grealis to educate veterans on programs and services available to them — something he wishes he’d known when he was discharged.

“Prior to working for United Way, I was laid off for 18 months and didn’t know there were veteran-specific services that could help me find a job and do some other things,” he said. “That’s where my motivation comes from — I know how hard it was when I was laid off and the things I had to do to make ends meet.”

Within federal, state and community programs, there are services and funds set aside especially for veterans and their families, he said. These include housing and winter clothing vouchers, help with utilities and food.

Analyzing needs

Recently, 2-1-1 analyzed calls from the Help 2 Veterans line, to find the population’s highest needs, as well as trends by era of veterans requesting services. The population is divided by service era — peacetime, World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Gulf War and current active or reserve members. Thirty-nine percent of callers are between the ages of 36 and 57 years old.

Close to 90 percent of the community’s needs are met for those connected to services through Help 2 Veterans. The highest needs for veterans in Cuyahoga County are education, employment and income; food; housing/shelter; health care and individual and family support.

No two calls are alike for Grealis, who fields veterans from WWII to active duty members. Many times, transportation is a big issue, deeply affecting those 75 and older. But, Grealis works to leverage his connections within other social services and convince vets to seek further help if needed.

“A lot of times it takes convincing for them to go to the Veteran’s Service Commission or back to Veteran’s Affairs,” he said. “Nobody ever says it’s easy, but nothing ever is. That’s some of the conversations I have — you’re a vet, boot camp wasn’t easy, your tour wasn’t easy, this is just one more obstacle in your life you just need to figure out and get done.”

If you need assistance, United Way 2-1-1 can help. Simply dial 2-1-1 or chat with us for assistance.

A flippin’ fun morning

United Way of Greater Cleveland’s annual campaign kickoff brought a long-standing tradition back to Public Square this year. The Campaign Kickoff and Pancake Flip, held August 31, 2016, served more than 1,000 breakfasts in the newly renovated square, where guests enjoyed local celebrities, entertainment and a serious amount of pancakes with the end goal of addressing serious needs in Greater Cleveland.

“There is a depth and complexity to the needs in the community that even the most engaged of you may not realize,” said Augie Napoli, United Way president and CEO. “There are crisis-level shortfalls in basic needs, education and financial security that would shock you. And that must be addressed by the one organization in Greater Cleveland that has the ability to innovate, convene agency leaders, gather community feedback and reflect that in donor investments on the scale only United Way can.”

Ricky Smith Pancake
Ricky Smith learning how to make the perfect pancake

Napoli was joined by United Way board chairman Marc Byrnes, Oswald Companies chairman; United Way’s 2016 campaign
co-chairs Heidi Gartland, University Hospitals vice president of government and community relations, and John MacIntosh, KPMG managing partner; as well as Ricky Smith – United Way advocate, comedian and founder of #RAKE (Random Acts of Kindness Everywhere).

Byrnes reflected on his personal connection with United Way as an infant adopted into a loving family, and reminded the audience that by working together we can accomplish our goals to create opportunity, safety and security for all.

Gartland and MacIntosh spoke of the work already being done in support of the 2016 campaign, and highlighted the positive impact United Way donations make in our community — from the hundreds of thousands of Greater Cleveland families and residents who received help to meet their basic needs, to the more than 252,000 calls for help that were answered through 2-1-1.

“Together, we can make a difference and create the change we want in our community,” said MacIntosh. Added Gartland, Together, Clevelanders have tremendous power.”

Thanks to everyone who stopped by for a pancake breakfast and to all the volunteers who helped out during the Pancake Flip. We had a great time and hope everyone who had an opportunity to spend a little time with us enjoyed themselves!

View the photos from the event →

Special thanks to Northern Haserot and Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, sponsors of the 2016 United Way Campaign Kickoff and Pancake Flip.

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