The Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS) started the Access Benefits Online (ABO) program in February 2010 to improve access to work supports. ABO is built on two main ideas:
- To offer quality application assistance for public benefits in Community Based Organizations (CBOs) across the state.
- A focus on serving hard to reach populations.
Our model is based in the following:
- Many CBOs have built trust within the community. We rely in this trust to reach out to clients that would otherwise not apply for public benefits.
- We train our CBO partners so they become a reliable, trusted access point to public benefits, with up to date information, a powerful software screening tool that can check eligibility for 12 public benefits (SNAP, TFA, Husky A, B, C and D, among others ) and good, reliable data to track their performance.
- The whole process should be seamless: the application is completed and sent to DSS by the CBO staff.
CAHS has steadily built a network of community partners across the state, from eight CBOs in 2010 to 35 sites this year. 2013 has been a year of growth, thanks to our partnership with the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut. Thirteen community health centers across the state use ABO to screen their clients for SNAP, Medicaid, Husky and other benefits, help them fill their applications and track enrollments. This has greatly increased the volume of clients we serve every month, from 266 screenings/month in 2012 to close to 800 this past year.
In 2013 CAHS and our partners screened more than 9,000 households for benefits covering more than 20,000 individuals. More than 8,000 were referred to DSS to apply for benefits. As the end of September, 3,709 households had been enrolled to at least one benefit, completing more than 6,200 benefit enrollments. ABO partners successfully focused on traditionally underserved groups: 46% of our clients were Hispanic, 17% African American. 28% spoke a language other than English in their household; 39% of them were under 18 years old.
Next year CAHS will continue working with our community partners and DSS to further improve and streamline benefit access in Connecticut. The Affordable Care Act will add many people to Medicaid, and CAHS will be there, helping them get the benefits they need.
To that, however, we need your help. Please support CAHS to help us provide these services that low income families rely on and have a better new year. With your donation we will be able to be in more place, help more families, make a bigger difference. And all with your help.
There has been a lot of talk lately regarding marginal tax rates. The debate, as usual, has focused in the tiny, minuscule slice of population that would be affected by a hypothetical tax increase to those making more than $250,000 as year (2% of the population), and how a three point bump in their tax rate would affect their willingness to work.
If a 39% marginal tax rate could turn hard workers into slackers and reduce investment, it might be interesting to explore other parts of the tax system with huge marginal tax rate spikes. To be more precise, we can look at how the tax system looks like for a family that is receiving some means-tested public benefit programs as they get close to the income limit for those benefits. Eugene Steurle, from the Urban institute (via Paul Krugman) has a very detailed study on the marginal tax rates for those families, and the picture is certainly not reassuring:
What we see in this graph is what happens as a family gets closer to the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) threshold and begins to lose benefit programs. The dotted line above is how the system is set up now; the line below is how the social safety net will operate once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is fully implemented.
In real terms, a family that moves from 50 to 51% FPL (the cut off point for Medicaid) sees a 50% marginal tax rate, as a modest income increase is undermined the loss of benefits. The jump is even more pronounced in the 130% FPL line, where most families start losing SNAP benefits (food stamps) and the Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC) begin to phase out. A single mother might end up seeing marginal tax rates above 90%, with almost 90 cents of extra dollar earned going to cover each dollar of benefits lost.
If high marginal tax rates drive families to work less, we should pay less attention to what happens to the top 2% and look at the huge fiscal cliff that low income families face as they hit the income limits for means-tested benefits. The ACA will help to diminish this, as the subsidies extend much further (up to 400% FPL), but the problem remains: the non-universal, means-tested nature of much of our safety net ends up creating a huge incentive against getting out of poverty. Moving towards more universal programs (like Medicare or Social Security) is the only way to avoid these penalties.