Friday, May 1, 2009

Enrollment in Public Programs - A Win Win

Research shows that even small increases in a family’s income—as little as $372 per month over three years—can have positive impacts on a child’s social skills and school readiness. Health care coverage, food support, child care assistance, energy assistance, earned income tax credits, and other public programs were designed to help low-income families meet basic needs. These programs also encourage parents and adults to remain in the workforce. Despite the benefits, many eligible Minnesota families do not participate in public programs or claim tax credits.

· Energy Assistance (70% of eligible households are not enrolled)
· MinnesotaCare and Medical Assistance (22% of eligible individuals are not enrolled)
· Child Care Assistance (76% of eligible children are not enrolled)
· Food Support (58% of eligible individuals are not enrolled)
· EITC and WFC (18% of eligible households do not claim)

There are many reasons why families are unable to participate in the programs for which they are eligible: if they are working, they often believe they don't qualify; language or literacy barriers can make a complex application process overwhelming; they feel stigmatized by public programs; they’ve had poor experiences or they distrust government bureaucracies. Even at current participation rates, these programs bring hundreds of millions of federal dollars into the Minnesota economy. In 2006, Minnesota received:

· Energy Assistance=$77 million
· EITC=$432 million
· Child Care Assistance=$132 million
· Food Support=$250 million

The United States Department of Agriculture estimates that every $5 dollars of Food Support benefits generates $9.20 in total economic activity. The economic impact on Minnesota would be enormous if all families participated in these programs. I currently work for Children’s Defense Fund Minnesota on an outreach project called Bridge to Benefits. A core component of the project is an online eligibility-screening tool designed to help individuals and families understand if they are eligible for seven public programs and two tax credits. By answering a few simple questions, individuals and families can learn if they qualify for programs, print out applications and get county-specific information about how and where to apply. The website will also connect families to organizations that provide one-on-one application assistance.

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