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


Another way of reaching low-income populations that may not know they are eligible for benefits, have transportation or mobility problems, or fear the stigma of appearing in person at a program office is to offer remote outreach and application assistance using technology in addition to, or instead of, in-person contact. Populations served using this strategy might include rural populations, seniors, eligible noncitizens, veterans, and returning prisoners. In this strategy, staff initiate contact or respond to client contacts from a remote location instead of visiting with potential applicants in person. Using this strategy, applicants are able to complete the application process over the phone without having to leave their homes, or from a location more convenient and comfortable than the program office. Two examples include the following:

BenePhilly. Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a nonprofit organization based in Philadelphia that focuses on increasing access to public benefits for low-income Pennsylvanians. In collaboration with the Department on Aging and the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare, BDT operates BenePhilly, a program that provides screening and application assistance to seniors for a range of federal and state assistance programs. Programs include SNAP, the Medicare Low Income Subsidy, the state’s Property Tax and Rent Rebate program, and medical prescription drug plans—called Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly (PACE) and PACE Needs Enhancement Tier. BenePhilly uses the following two key strategies to identify, contact, and educate limited-income seniors and help them apply for multiple state and federal benefit programs:

  • Targeting through list strategies. BDT develops specific MOUs with regional, state, and federal agencies that allow these agencies to share program enrollment lists while ensuring the protection and regulating the use of these data. When cross-referencing these lists, it is possible to identify individuals who are very likely eligible for benefits having similar income limits but who are not yet enrolled in those programs. Through a list-cleansing process, BDT eliminates individuals ineligible for or already enrolled in specific benefit programs. What remains is a list of individuals very likely eligible for, but not receiving, one or more specific benefits.
  • Communication through call center and other technologies. BDT uses direct mail and a highly trained call center to reach out to likely eligible individuals. Direct mail letters are sent by a trusted source, such as the Pennsylvania secretary of aging or the City of Philadelphia’s mayor. The text of the letter is written at a fifth-grade literacy level to ensure effective communication. Letters use a simple outreach message and provide one phone number to call—the BDT Call Center. BDT has Spanish bilingual capabilities on staff as well as access to a language line, so that individuals can communicate in more than 70 different languages. Call Center staff are highly trained to communicate complex benefit information in a user-friendly manner. They handle both inbound and outbound calls, receive ongoing coaching, and are monitored on a continual basis. Call Center staff are trained to work with clients, caregivers, powers of attorney, and others to help individuals in need get connected to benefits. While on the phone, they screen individuals and help them apply for multiple benefits, using telephonic signature and electronic transmittal of applications to program agencies. A web-based telephone system allows BDT to record, store, and retrieve every telephone call made or received.

ACCESS NYC. The Paperless Office System (POS) is an electronic case record system serving New York City. Application forms may be completed and documents scanned at remote locations and electronically transmitted to public benefit offices. POS is also now available at approximately 85 CBOs in New York City; in 2005, a USDA grant provided for its expansion to noncash assistance SNAP centers. CBOs, job centers, and SNAP centers have an electronic signature pad that allows clients to submit their signatures electronically, eliminating the need for applicants to appear in person at a public benefits program office.

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