Web-Based Benefit Access Tools: Mitigating Barriers for Special Needs Populations. D. Rural Populations


Rural populations experience barriers to accessing benefit services due to limited availability of computers and broadband service and distance to locations that provide these services. Data from NTIA show that rural residents are less likely than urban residents to adopt broadband Internet, even after adjusting for socioeconomic factors (NTIA 2010). Eligible rural populations without broadband access are unable to enroll in benefit programs from home and may also struggle to access locations that provide Internet access due to geographic barriers. Indeed, lack of public transportation in many rural areas limits residents from traveling to locations where computers and Internet services are available, or to CBO or welfare offices that can assist individuals in the application process. Only 32 percent of all rural counties have full access to public transportation services, 28 percent have limited access, and 40 percent have no public transit options at all (Stommes and Brown 2005). The United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service rural development economist Dennis M. Brown and USDA sociologist Eileen S. Stommes state that, "for low-income rural residents, long commutes and lack of transportation are barriers to working. Limited transportation options also isolate the rural poor from government services and programs designed to lift them out of poverty" (Brown and Stommes 2004).

Given these barriers and needs, rural populations might benefit from the following:

  • Mobile outreach and application assistance units (equipped with laptop computers, wireless service, scanner/printer/fax machines, and other necessary technology) that are able to visit low-income rural communities and provide on-site benefit application service assistance
  • Access to marketing and education materials that includes dates when mobile outreach vans will visit the area

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