Center on Business and Poverty

Center on Business and Poverty (COBAP) is a non-profit organization that supports writing and community projects related to employers which participate in social enterprise or employee ownership.[1] While it was an initiative of The College of Letters & Science at the University of Wisconsin Madison, it is now a private organization under Progress Through Business. John Hoffmire, who holds the Carmen Porco Chair in Sustainable Business at the Center on Business and Poverty, also founded the organization in 2004 and serves as the current director. By arranging community projects, the program informs low-income individuals and families as well as employees on how to improve their financial situations through various means.[2]

Center on Business and Poverty
Area served
Key people
John Hoffmire (director)


The idea for COBAP emerged during conversations between John Hoffmire and John Karl Scholz who knew each other from graduate school at Stanford University. Hoffmire started working on setting the groundwork for the center in 2004 and established a national advisory board. The original idea was to use trained volunteers from the university to counsel workers on financial matters.[3][4] The program started as a way for UW Hospital employees to have their taxes done for free, but branched out to other businesses when demand increased.[5]


COBAP supports writing and community projects related to employers which participate in social enterprise or employee ownership. The organization has developed several community projects to enroll employees in programs such as the Earned Income Tax Credit,[6] direct-deposit banking and company-matched retirement plans.[7] The service is available to those who earn less than $49,000 and is offered at several businesses, credit unions and universities.

COBAP has also helped launch 25 businesses, and helped create financial literacy training programs for over 80 credit unions[8] As of 2011, the organization through its volunteers had helped more than 21,000 low-income people complete their tax forms for free or for reduced fees.[9][10]

The Center on Business and Poverty has helped to grow three sister organizations: Progress Through Business (Progress), The Personal Finance Employee Education Foundation (PFEEF) and, an online newspaper. Progress is an entity focused on research and journalism. PFEEF sponsors the Personal Financial Wellness Scale and Survey.[11]


The organization raises funds through individual and corporate donations and foundation grants.[12] It was started on seed money of $89,000. Some of its current and recent partners have included Puelicher Center for Banking Education, UW Credit Union, in conjunction with Beta Alpha Psi at UW-Madison, Journey House, Housing Ministries of American Baptists, Zions Bank, Precision Information, Wisconsin Institute for Public Policy and Service, and Staples, Inc.[2][5]


  1. Dresang, Joel (April 14, 2006). "Center brings tax filing help to workers on the job". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  2. "UW Center Receives Grant for Financial Literacy". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. June 15, 2006. p. 6D.
  3. "New Center Employees Business to Tackle the Problem of Poverty". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  4. Penn, Michael (2005). "Corporate welfare: A new UW center asks what business can do for their employees". On Wisconsin. p. 17.
  5. "UW, Madison College students help area residents with taxes". Badger Herald. Retrieved 8 January 2014.
  6. Sachs, Emily. "Private employers help promote the EITC". Community Dividend. p. 5.
  7. Dresang, Joel (April 14, 2006). "Center brings tax filing help to workers on the job". Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  8. "Center helps Madison-area residents complete tax papers". Wisconsin News.
  9. "Puelicher Center for Banking Education wins Financial Literacy Award". University of Wisconsin. Retrieved 9 January 2015.
  10. Balousek, Marv (May 2005). "Program helps low-income workers increase their disposable income". Capital Region Business Journal. p. 40-41.
  11. Bowers, Katherine (May 2010). "Best companies for hourly workers". Working Mother. p. 56.
  12. "Tax program helps working poor". Wisconsin Insights. 2013. pp. 22–23.
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