The public benefit obstacle course - and how to get out of it

Applying for public benefits is hard.  The Department of Social Services in Connecticut has an extraordinary amount of forms; just figuring out the right one takes some effort. Once the right application has been selected, the second hurdle always is the paperwork itself; with some applications running for 22 pages, completing the form is by itself a challenge. The third step is figuring out what additional documents are necessary to include with the application, which of course vary wildly from one benefit to the next. After getting all that right, it would be the time to figure out to what DSS office we need to send everything (harder than it seems, as it might not be the closest -and yes, the map on the DSS website is wrong) and then figuring out the interview process, making sure not to miss a single phone call.

It is not just a hard process - Connecticut actually has one of the most unwelcoming and convoluted benefit application systems in the nation, according to a recent study:

benefit_map

There are only eight states in the country that have no system in place whatsoever to apply for public benefits online - Connecticut is part of that undistinguished minority.  Fortunately, and thanks in part to the Affordable Care Act,  DSS is working to create an online web portal that will enable clients to apply directly from their computers. The system is (largely) on track, and will be operational late summer / early fall this year.

This won´t make applying for benefits exactly a breeze, in any case. The applications will remain long and confusing, paperwork complex and the process will be hard to navigate for many. CAHS has been working with more than 30 partner organizations to help clients get the benefits through our EarnBenefits Online (EBO) program, now in our fourth year of operation. Just in 2012 CAHS and our community partners screened close to 3,200 households for benefits using EBO, enrolling more than 1,500 households in public benefits.  We work with organizations serving hard to reach populations, in neighborhoods underserved by DSS, and also provide the software to high traffic sites like Community Health Centers.

The EBO program has proved highly successful, as we work with community organizations and clients to make the challenging obstacle course to DSS much easier. Starting our fourth year, we will keep working with partners and DSS to make sure that access to benefits in Connecticut is available to all that need them, without barriers or roadblocks.

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