Successfully Implementing SOAR: Lessons Learned from Six States. What Is SOAR?


The SOAR initiative aims to improve access to SSI/SSDI benefits for individuals who are homeless. Communities do not receive any direct funding to implement SOAR but instead receive federally funded technical assistance (TA) from a small business contractor. Agencies that have provided funding for the TA include HHS Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Health Resources and Services Administration as well as the Department of Housing and Urban Development. States submit an application to receive SOAR TA. As of January 2010, all but 16 states had successfully applied for and received federally funded SOAR TA. This TA includes:

Strategic planning to help states develop policies and procedures that will aid those who are homeless in obtaining SSI/SSDI. TA helps social service providers, advocates, and state and local agencies work together to determine how to create an effective system for obtaining SSI/SSDI. Participating organizations typically include the Social Security Administration (SSA), Disability Determination Services (DDS), state health and mental health agencies, state homeless services coordinating councils, and local providers of homeless and mental health services. These stakeholders develop a strategic action plan that describes which staff will contribute to SOAR and what role they will play in the initiative. The plan also specifies how the initiative will be supported and sustained and how cross-agency relationships will be developed or strengthened.

Training for staff who work with homeless individuals on how to support them through the SSI/SSDI application process. SOAR employs a train-the-trainer model in which states identify a few individuals to receive training from the TA contractor on the Stepping Stones to Recovery (SSTR) curriculum. These individuals then conduct in-state trainings on the SSTR curriculum for front-line workers  that is, case managers, social workers, and other staff who work directly with individuals who are homeless. In-state training participants are typically staff from homeless shelters and service organizations, mental health agencies, and health care facilities. SSA and DDS sometimes participate in these trainings to provide input on developing high-quality applications.

The SSTR curriculum emphasizes several key strategies that may increase and expedite SSI/SSDI application approvals. Strategies include serving as an applicants representative during the application process (and thus as a point of contact for SSA and DDS) and working closely with health care providers to obtain medical documentation. Other key strategies include submitting a summary report with the application to help the DDS medical examiner verify an applicants claim and working closely with SSA and DDS to ensure that the application is complete before submission.

Follow-up support to help communities expand their efforts and learn from the successes and challenges of other communities. Each state receives ongoing TA and monitoring of strategic action plan implementation for one to two years. The TA contractor also disseminates promising practices and maintains a website with materials and tools for use by SOAR communities.

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