By Pat Loeb
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) - Frank Butler sat in the Utility Emergency Services Fund (UESF) last week, filling out the extensive food stamp application with help from benefits counselor Emily Mitchell.
"I was in need of resources to meet my expenses with regards to my groceries," he said.
But he hadn't explored the process of getting them until he received a flyer advertising the new "BenePhilly" centers that opened in six locations last week.
The Centers are a major piece of Philadelphia's anti-poverty effort, led by the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity. Executive Director Eva Gladstein says the city loses out on millions of dollars every year because residents don't apply for the benefits to which they're entitled-- food stamps, health insurance, rent subsidies, utility help, income supplements and job training.
Federal, state and local governments have created the programs as a lifeline to improving recipients' economic situation, but they don't make them easy to access.
A maze of eligibility determinations, complicated applications and often appeals of initial rejections frustrate and discourage many people, according to Tina Floyd -- operations director at UESF:
"This allows folks to quickly, easily and in a customer-friendly way, both identify the benefits they need and get enrolled in them," she says.
The approach has already proved successful with low-income seniors. City officials began centralized benefits enrollment for that population in 2008 and say it's helped connect them to $120 million in benefits.
As with that program, the city is partnering with Benefit Data Trust and Solutions for Progress, who provide outreach, counselors and the "Benefit Bank" software that helps determine all of the programs each applicant is eligible for.
So when Butler responded to the BenePhilly flyer, the first thing Mitchell did was run a quick check on his financial data to see what he was eligible for.
Then she began the enrollment process.
"He'll avoid a lot of the rigmarole that people usually run into," she said.
Butler hopes this is temporary, that he'll find work soon, but in the meantime, he's grateful.
"This is a very informative and nurturing environment," he says. "I really appreciate the sensitivity and humanity of all the staff members."
Here is the list of BenePhilly Centers:
United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, in the Houston Center,
2029 S. 8th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19148
Catholic Social Services, Casa Del Carmen
4400 North Reese Street, Philadelphia, PA 19140
People's Emergency Center, in the Families First building
3939 Warren Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
1233 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102
1515 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19130
Utilities Emergency Services Fund
1617 JFK Blvd, Suite 840, Philadelphia, PA 19103
For hours of operation, to schedule an appointment or to receive assistance over the phone, call 844-848-4376.
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