Web-Based Benefit Access Tools: Mitigating Barriers for Special Needs Populations. A. Web-Based Benefits Access Efforts


Primary data used in this paper were collected from case studies of a small subset of 86 web-based benefits access efforts identified by a national scan of web-based benefits access tools completed under the contract (Kauff et al. 2011a). All 86 efforts used web-based technology to interface with potential program applicants to help them access multiple federally funded benefit programs for which they qualify but in which they do not participate. Some were developed and are managed by public agencies, some by private organizations, and some by a combination of these. Some of the administering entities intentionally developed strategies to mitigate barriers to use of web-based tools among vulnerable subgroups of the low-income population, and some did not. Their approaches were largely driven by whether their intention in developing the effort was to increase program access, increase program efficiency, or a combination of both. The case studies featured efforts with more complex, interactive features—such as an online screening tool and electronic application submission—and different types of management structures. The case studies included the following efforts:

ACCESS NYC. ACCESS NYC is a screener for 35 programs and benefits application portals for five programs in New York City. It was spearheaded by the Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and is managed by HHS-Connect, an initiative administratively located within the City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications. HHS-Connect spearheads technology solutions for integration among city human service agencies. ACCESS NYC is available to the public for self-service use in seven languages. The screener consists of two levels. Users complete an initial screen that provides general information about the kinds of programs that might be available for their households. They then have the option to provide more detailed information that will help determine their potential eligibility for specific programs. At any time, users may submit online applications for school meals, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid recertifications, and the state Senior Citizen and Disability Rent Increase Exemption.

Benefits CalWIN. Benefits CalWIN is an online tool that enables screening, online application submission, and online program recertifications for SNAP, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)[1] in a consortium of 18 counties (including San Francisco) in California. The Benefits CalWIN website is publicly available through https://www.benefitscalwin.org or the state and county websites, and offers language options in English, Spanish, and Chinese. The tool and its name are linked to the California Welfare Information Network (CalWIN), the consortium’s eligibility determination, benefit calculation, enrollment, and case management system. Users may create an account that saves screening data and provides access to all other features on the site, including the benefit application. Information from the screener does not prepopulate the application, and there is no requirement to screen before applying. Users may choose the programs for which they want to apply; the final page of the application requires an electronic signature and lists the required verification documents to upload or send to the office. Scanned images may be attached to the application. After submission, clients receive a printable final summary with a tracking number that they can use as a reference if they call to track the progress of their application. As of April 2011, clients may also recertify and submit quarterly reports online for SNAP through Benefits CalWIN.

Benefits Enrollment Network (BEN). Single Stop USA is a national nonprofit organization that funds approximately 80 community-based organizations (CBOs) and community college sites in New York, New Jersey, California, Florida, and New Mexico to implement and operate its model of service, which includes four components: benefits screening and application assistance, tax preparation, legal counseling, and financial counseling. For the screening and application assistance, Single Stop counselors use BEN, an online tool, on behalf of clients to determine their potential eligibility for a range of federal, state, and local benefits and tax credits. In each site, BEN includes core federal programs such as SNAP and the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), child care assistance, TANF,Medicaid, Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and federal tax credits. The number and types of programs included in the tool vary at each site, however; in some sites, the tool includes only the core programs, while others include more than 40 programs. BEN can use data entered for the screening to prepopulate benefit applications that clients can submit on their own. While BEN is capable of allowing electronic application submission, this feature was not available in any operational sites at the time of the case studies. BEN data do not feed into any federal or state agency portal, so data must be re-entered into other online application tools if clients want to apply online for benefits. Single Stop counselors can assist clients through this process.

Delaware Application for Social Services and Internet Screening Tool (ASSIST). Delaware ASSIST was created by the Division of Social Services (DSS), housed within the Delaware Department of Health and Social Services. DSS is responsible for administering and determining initial and ongoing eligibility for TANF, SNAP, most Medicaid programs, General Assistance, and child care assistance. ASSIST is a self-service tool that helps users determine potential eligibility and enables them to complete and electronically submit applications with electronic signatures for these programs. Online application data are automatically downloaded into the state mainframe eligibility system. ASSIST is based on Pennsylvania’s online screener and application tool, The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Access to Social Services (COMPASS).

EarnBenefits®. EarnBenefits was developed and is operated by the national nonprofit organization Structured Employment Economic Development Corporation (Seedco). The initiative promotes work support through education about available benefits, facilitated access to benefits, and benefits management. Access to benefits is achieved through an online screener for a variety of federal, state, and city programs used by trained counselors on behalf of clients. While the tool is capable of allowing electronic application submission, this feature is not currently in use in any of the sites. Instead, online applications are prepopulated and printed for submission by the client, and counselors at CBOs and other local organizations implementing EarnBenefits guide clients through the application process. The number and types of benefit programs included in the tool vary by locality. At the time of data collection for the study, EarnBenefits was operational in select areas in New York, Tennessee, Georgia, Maryland, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. EarnBenefits is also preparing to launch in Illinois and Louisiana and, as of October 2011, will no longer be operational in Kentucky or Buffalo, New York. In New York City, where we focused our data collection, the tool includes almost 20 programs.

One-e-App. One-e-App is a self-service tool that allows users to screen and electronically submit applications for a range of benefit programs according to the locality in which it is implemented. Social Interest Solutions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to making public benefits enrollment easier through technology, owns and operates One-e-App and tailors and licenses it to state agencies to implement. It is currently in use under different names in Arizona (Health-e-Arizona, or HEA), California (One-e-App), Indiana (Ind-e-App), and Maryland (Health-e-Link). HEA, which was the focus of our data collection, allows users statewide to screen and electronically submit a single combined application or individual applications for TANF, SNAP, Medicaid, CHIP, and the Medicare Savings Program. Individuals may also recertify for those programs through HEA.

The Benefit Bank (TBB). TBB is an online tool that can be used to help individuals and families screen for benefit eligibility and prepare and submit tax returns, benefit applications, and the Free Application for Federal Student Aid for Pell grants. TBB exists in some form in Ohio, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Texas. The number and types of programs included in the tool vary by locality. In Ohio, where the tool is called the Ohio Benefit Bank (OBB), it includes approximately 20 programs, the largest number among all states. In each state where TBB exists, online access to it is available through trained benefit counselors at community based organizations. Counselors use the computerized tool in conjunction with educational outreach to raise awareness of available tax credits and benefit programs. In some states (including Ohio, where we focused our data collection), the public may also access a self-service version of TBB. Where supported by the appropriate state or federal agency, applications may be filed electronically through TBB.

Utah Helps/myCase. The electronic Resource and Eligibility Product (eREP) is the Utah Department of Workforce Services’ rules-based eligibility determination system, which encompasses approximately 30 programs. The state Department of Technology Services runs eREP and the public-use online tools that allow customers to interact with eREP data. First, Utah Helps allows customers to screen for benefits and complete and submit online applications for 13 programs (data must later be rekeyed into eREP by a worker). MyCase allows customers to receive (but not submit) information about active cases; it is currently being enhanced to replace and improve the functionality of Utah Helps to allow customers to update cases online and automatically populate eREP with online data.

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