Six centers opened to help Philadelphians stop leaving federal dollars ‘on the table’

By: Steve Trader
July 9, 2014

Empowerment and  Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment, announces the opening of the BenePhilly Center on Locust Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Empowerment and Eva Gladstein, executive director of the Mayor’s Office of Community Empowerment, announces the opening of the BenePhilly Center on Locust Street. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The City of Philadelphia says only 20 percent of low-income residents who are eligible for help from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), the Earned Income Tax Credit or other federal benefits actually get them.

On Tuesday, six new BenePhilly Centers opened aiming to helping poor residents enroll and stop leaving millions of dollars worth of benefits “on the table.”

“Very often people are not able to access these benefits for a variety of reasons,” said Eva Gladstein, Director of the Mayor’s office of Community Empowerment. “They may not be aware, or the application process is complicated. BenePhilly Centers are designed to connect those residents with expert counselors either in person or over the phone.”

Philadelphia has the highest poverty rate of any of the nation’s ten largest cities — about 27 percent.

In 2010, Glastein said about 45,000 families eligible for an Earned Income Tax Credit didn’t get it.  Those families could have received a combined $76 million through the EITC.

The BenePhilly Initiative began in 2008 as a program to assist low-income seniors, in partnership with Benefits Data Trust and Solutions for Progress.

Since then, it’s helped poor people of all ages connect with close to $120 million worth of benefits.

“The BenePhilly model has received national recognition and has proven that it’s possible to create a benefits access system that is simple, comprehensive and cost effective,” said DeAnna Minus-Vincent of Benefits Data Trust.

Other benefits that the center will provide support for enrollment include the property tax Homestead Exemption, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (formerly called welfare), Low Income Home Energy Assistance, the Child Care Tax Credit, and various health insurance programs.

The six new BenePhilly Centers are spread throughout the city:  Philadelphia FIGHT at 1233 Locust St.; Catholic Social Services at 4400 N. Reese St.; the People’s Emergency Center at 3939 Warren St.; Project HOME at 1515 Fairmount Ave.; Utilities Emergency Services Fund at 1617 John F. Kennedy Blvd. Suite 840; and United Communities Southeast Philadelphia at 2029 S. Eighth St.  However people can also get help over the phone at (844) 848-4376.

“We’re trying to make this a program where there is no wrong door,” said Gladstein. “You can walk in one of the six centers if that’s what you’re most comfortable doing, or you can connect over the telephone and walk through an application.”

Plans for the first year of the program include reaching out to between five and six thousand households, with the goal of a 50 percent success rate, according to Gladstein.

“The goal is to not just complete the application, but to follow it through to the end and to achieve that result, and to get that benefit into that family’s pocketbook,” said Gladstein.

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