NORWALK, CT - Family & Children’s Agency is one of ten “community partners” selected to introduce EarnBenefits Online, a new state program designed to help low-income families become more self-sufficient. Based at the Agency’s Community Connections Drop-In Center, the program is offered to Agency clients as well as clients of Norwalk’s Open Door Shelter. In addition, the program is offered to Norwalk Community College students in the Family Economic Security Program (FESP), which is funded by the Fairfield County Community Foundation Fund for Women and Girls.
The Fairfield County Community Foundation also gave a grant to the Connecticut Association for Human Services (CAHS), which sponsors the program, for partial funding of EarnBenefits Online. Other funders for EarnBenefits Online include the American Savings Foundation, the Ann E. Casey Community Foundation, the Connecticut Community Foundation, the Fisher Foundation, the Graustein Memorial Fund, the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, the Moore Foundation, the New Britain Community Foundation, and the New Haven Community Fund.
A computerized program, EarnBenefits Online is designed to verify eligibility and benefit levels for key federal and state programs that cover areas such as Medicaid, health care for uninsured youth (HUSKY), child care, nutritional programs, temporary financial assistance, and assistance with energy bills. Noting that eligibility for these benefits lasts for specific amounts of time, Chris Jachino, Director of Homeless Services at the Agency, said, “The goal is for people to work their way out of eligibility for these benefits and to become self-sufficient. Child care is probably the best example of this, because parents can use the benefit to make sure that their children are cared for while they go to job interviews or work increased hours at an existing job. As they start to work or increase their hours, their income grows to the point where they can support themselves.”
According to Mary Ellen Hass, Executive Vice President at the Agency, “One tremendous value of EarnBenefits Online is the way it simplifies the process. Determining eligibility and completing applications are both very complicated processes from the perspective of potential participants in these programs. With EarnBenefits Online, staff can provide hands-on assistance to help our clients access programs that can provide their families with basic needs.” For example, according to the Connecticut Voices for Children, only 58% of state residents who are eligible actually are receiving food stamps, which suggests that many more families and children could benefit from this program as they work toward self-sufficiency.
Mr. Jachino views EarnBenefits Online as a valuable complement to services already offered at Community Connections, which include case management to help clients locate affordable housing and vocational counseling to help them find employment. As he explained, “(With this program) we can offer clients something that is tangible and can provide personal benefits to them, and which enables them to be more engaged in our vocational support services.”
EarnBenefits Online offers other important advantages to clients. As Mr. Jachino noted, “Everywhere these people go, they are being asked to complete paperwork. With this system, the information is entered directly into the computer, so the paperwork is essentially completed for them.” Another valuable benefit is that updates to forms are entered into the system on a timely basis, so that users are always working with the most up-to-date versions of each form. Currently, the completed forms must be printed out and mailed to program offices. However, CAHS is working toward computerized submission of the data, which would make the application process faster, easier, and more secure.
In preparation for using the new computer system, Mr. Jachino and several staff members attended training sessions and completed several “practice” cases. The program is supported with monthly reports from CAHS, as well as newsletters and Webinars that cover updates to the system.
More information on EarnBenefits Online is available on the CAHS Website, www.cahs.org/programs-earnbenefits. For more information on the Community Connections Drop-In Center and other Agency services, please visit www.FamilyandChildrensAgency.org.