Program Management

Benefit Screening and Application

Overview

Many low-income individuals have insufficient, inaccurate, or out of date information about public benefit programs. As a result, there is tremendous under-utilization of these programs by people who qualify for them. Public benefits like food stamps, welfare, housing assistance, health coverage, and tax credits can reduce costs or increase the income of individuals and households, helping them to stabilize and avoid financial and health crises. Stable and healthy individuals are more likely to consistently go to work, be effective on the job (whether at the social enterprise or at a mainstream employer), and retain their social enterprise job until successful transition to mainstream employment.

Social enterprises can seek to stabilize their workers by helping them secure additional income and reduce costs, before and/or during social enterprise employment. In providing benefit screening and application assistance, social enterprises can assess workers for possible benefit eligibility and support them in completing and submitting the applications and paperwork necessary to secure the benefit.

Implementation

Workers at a social enterprise are interviewed by a knowledgeable staff member or partner about their financial and family situation. This information is used to assess likely eligibility for public benefits and the worker is then either referred to the appropriate public agency or community partner. If application assistance is also offered, information provided during the interview is used to complete relevant benefit applications for submission to the relevant public agency. Additional information or documentation may need to be collected during this time.

Before Employment

Assuming that they are unemployed at the time, individuals are likely to qualify for the largest number of public benefits prior to social enterprise employment. Although the benefit level may decline, some public benefits allow for individuals to continue receiving benefits post-employment so long as the individual enrolled pre-employment

During Employment

Eligibility for public benefits during social enterprise employment will vary dependent upon the wages and hours of work provided by the social enterprise. Individuals working part-time at minimum wage will likely still qualify for multiple public benefits. Almost all social enterprise workers should qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) during (and by virtue of related earnings during the tax year) social enterprise employment.

Assessment

Effectiveness and relevance

Cash and non-cash public benefits decrease poverty and/or increase stability among low-income individuals and their families. The EITC is only available to individuals with earned income, making it a good fit for social enterprise workers who may qualify for it by virtue of their employment at the social enterprise.

Availability of public resources

Most social enterprise workers will qualify for one or more public benefits, especially prior to start of their transitional employment period. Public funding for a social enterprise’s actual benefit screening and enrollment is more limited. Depending on the locale, potential sources of funding might include Community Development Block Grant, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Outreach Funding, or Medicaid.

Regulatory barriers

There are no relevant regulatory barriers. Social enterprises electing to do screening will want to ensure that the person doing screening is not also the social enterprise’s worker’s supervisor and that confidentiality is maintained.

Upfront coordination and time required

The amount of knowledge and procedures that need to be in place will vary dependent upon the benefit and number of benefits and on how far along the continuum from screening to application the social enterprise’s plans to provide services. Social enterprises may choose to partner with other agencies to provide these services.

Examples

Further Reading

Improving Access to Public Benefits: Helping Eligible Individuals and Families Get the Income Supports They Need

The Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Ford Foundation and the Open Society Institute, 2010

Low Income Families’ Utilization of the Federal “Safety Net”: Individual and State-Level Predictors of TANF and Food Stamp Receipt

Kelly Purtell, Elizabeth Gershoff, and J. Lawrence Aber, Child Youth Services Review, April 2012.

Policy Basics: the Earned Income Tax Credit

Washington, DC: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, October 2016

Variation in EITC Take Up County by County

Benjamin Harris, Washington, DC: Brookings Institution, January 2014

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