Roundtable Series: Community Leaders Come Together to Discuss Benefits Access at the First Shared Prosperity Roundtable


Community leaders discuss opportunities to improve access to benefits for low-income Philadelphians at the first Shared Prosperity Roundtable.

On October 31, the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) held the first of its monthly Shared Prosperity Roundtables.  The roundtables are discussions at which organizations and individuals interested in partnering to support Shared Prosperity can come together to deepen our knowledge, share ideas, and discuss our mutual agenda.

The first meeting focused on the intersection of poverty and access to benefits.  Over 50 organizations and individuals from across Philadelphia brought a variety of perspectives to discuss and generate ideas about how we as a community can ensure all eligible Philadelphians access public benefits when they need them.

At the meeting, participants heard from Mary Summers, Professor of Political Science and Health and Societies at the University of Pennsylvania, about both the new and ongoing challenges facing low-income communities trying to access key public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  It is clear the challenges are great: While the overall poverty rate in Philadelphia fell last year from 28.4% to 26.9%, the percentage of people eligible for food stamps grew from 25.1% to 26.3%.

Why Aren’t People Accessing Benefits, and How Can We Get People Enrolled
Following the presentation, attendees broke into small groups to discuss two key questions: 1) Why aren’t people accessing benefits? And 2) How can we get more people to enroll?  Here are some of the themes we saw and some examples of their responses.

Why People Aren’t Accessing Benefits:
Complex and Difficult to Navigate System — Siloed application process – like trying to go to 40 DMVs; Offices losing documents; Language barrier; Needed paperwork that many don’t have access to: photo identification, social security card; Needing a permanent address; Staffing cut backs lead to delays; staff that is frustrated, unable to provide high level of customer service; Lack of coordination across agencies; Lack of assistance; Re-application process is confusing and complicated

Stigma/Fear — Particularly for undocumented workers/immigrants that enrollment will affect their status; Bad past experiences; Pride/Shaming.

Lack of Awareness — Questions of eligibility; Don’t think they will get much help; Not sure where to get help or how.

Personal Challenges — Lack of time/flexible schedule; Technology barriers; Transportation; Literacy.

How to Get More People to Enroll:
Make the System Easier to Navigate — Integrated service delivery; Create more places to apply; Mobile truck – for applying in the community; An app for smart phones; Easy portal that explains step by step what to do; A single place where people can access multiple benefits; Work with applicant from beginning to end to ensure approval; Training for advocates and case workers, particularly on follow-up; Share data across agencies; Provide support and reminders for people when they need to re-certify.

Reduce stigma/lack of awareness — Create peer-to-peer outreach from people who have received benefits; Engage employers, retail outlets, and the private sector; Greater public awareness through publicity and education about the process; Peer support groups for people navigating the system; Make Access cards more like other cards.

New Partnerships
Groups were also asked to discuss what new partnerships were needed to take action.  Here are some of the responses:

  • Private Sector Partners – Attorneys, grocers, doctors, customer service trainers, employers, Wal-Mart
  • Health organizations – Hospitals, doctors, clinics, social workers, emergency rooms, insurance companies
  • Government – State agencies, legislators, County Assistance Offices, justice system, City Agencies (DHS)
  • Community-based institutions — Churches, libraries, recreation centers, schools, community colleges, United Way/211, childcare centers
  • Media

It was a very informative session for all attendees on how we can work together to ensure everyone can access key supports to stabilize their lives.  This information will inform our work and help advance Shared Prosperity.

If you are interested in participating in a future roundtable meeting, please sign-up for updates from CEO through the “Get Involved” page.

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