Web-Based Benefit Access Tools: Mitigating Barriers for Special Needs Populations. C. Mobile Outreach and Application Assistance


Mobile outreach and on-site application assistance initiatives are intended to reach low-income populations with transportation or mobility problems, or those not inclined to visit a program office or CBO, including rural populations, homeless individuals, seniors, and prisoners and reentering populations. Through this strategy, outreach staff travel to venues where concentrations of the target population reside and station themselves at various locations throughout the community where they are visible, there is substantial foot traffic, and/or members of the target group are likely to seek other services. Three prominent examples include:

  • OBB. OBB uses a mobile van—staffed by OBB outreach workers and equipped with satellite Internet, eight laptops, two work stations, and a generator—to reach vulnerable populations that may not be able to travel to a local office or partner organization. The van travels to various locations, providing application assistance and enrolling clients in programs. The van is also used when there is a natural disaster or economic downturn, such as a plant closing, to get benefits to clients quickly.
  • Project Bread’s Reaching the Latino Working Poor in Massachusetts Demonstration. Massachusetts received a grant from USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service to design and implement a demonstration to help overcome barriers to program participation faced by Latinos, including misconceptions and fears of interacting with a government agency and difficulty in communicating with English-speaking workers. The state contracted with Project Bread, a nonprofit anti-hunger organization, to carry out the demonstration. Project Bread hired two outreach workers (one for each of two demonstration pilot communities in the state) to provide application assistance to the target population using the state’s online application tool, the Virtual Gateway. The workers carry computers with air cards (which provide access to the Internet even when they are not in range of a wireless Internet hotspot). Workers also bring with them any other technology they need to submit program applications during in-person meetings with a client. Application assistance occurs at community organizations that are often visited by the Latino working poor and is provided by appointment and on a walk-in basis.
  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI)/Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) Outreach, Access and Recovery (SOAR). The SOAR model, funded by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration in the Department of Health and Human Services, targets homeless individuals in an effort to link those with disabilities to SSI or SSDI benefits. Case managers, outreach workers, and other front-line staff are trained to engage individuals and facilitate the benefits application process on their behalf. Trained staff can meet with individuals in any location—including a shelter, a food pantry, or the street—to collect information necessary for the application. SOAR encourages staff to become an applicant’s authorized representative and submit the SSDI application and certain components of the SSI application online. SOAR is now being offered within some prisons and jails, especially to individuals with mental illness or co-occurring disorders, to facilitate enrollment prior to release.

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