Media Coverage: Benefits Data Trust receives Pew grant to connect more Philadelphians with government benefits

Pew Charitable Trusts on Thursday announced a $4 million grant to Benefits Data Trust, a Philadelphia nonprofit that connects people in need with government benefits in Pennsylvania and five other states.

With the help of the five-year grant, Benefits Data Trust, or BDT, will attempt to double its reach in Southeastern Pennsylvania. BDT currently reaches out to 111,800 households in the region annually and helps 13,600 submit applications for food stamps and other benefits, the organization said.

“Benefits don’t help if people can’t access them,” said Trooper Sanders, BDT’s chief executive. “That’s why we are honored to receive this investment from the Pew Charitable Trusts that will enable us to identify solutions so that we can put benefits to work to tackle poverty and advance equity and opportunity in concert with community organizations across Philadelphia.”

Pew’s grant to BDT was among five that the $6 billion organization announced Thursday, for a total of $5.41 million, as part of an effort to help the region recover from the devastation of COVID-19. Other recipients are:

  • Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia will receive $250,000 over two years to provide full-day academic support to students in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods while classes are online and, when in-person classes resume, to support students outside of school hours.
  • Puentes de Salud, which operates a health clinic and provides other services to Philadelphia’s Latino immigrant communities, will receive $160,000 over two years to support telehealth services, standardized electronic health records, and better communication with patients.
  • Visit Philadelphia, which markets the region to tourists and cut staff last year as travel shut down because of the pandemic, will receive $500,000 over two years to bolster its efforts to promote businesses owned by people of color and generally devise strategies to strengthen the region’s tourism sector.
  • The Philadelphia Zoo also will receive $500,000 over two years. Some of the money will be used to make the zoo more accessible to residents of West Philadelphia. That includes the expansion of a science education program from one elementary school to eight, paired with class visits to the zoo.

Benefits Data Trust estimated that in 2019, $450 million in federal and state benefits went unclaimed by Philadelphia residents. It did not have an estimate of the total value of benefits received in the region, but its efforts that year resulted in 6,500 households obtaining an average of $4,000 in annual benefits. That totals $26 million.

The organization, which had $27 million in revenue last year and employs 300, works with state agencies to compare lists of people in benefit programs. The goal is to find people on one list who may also be eligible for other programs. For example, people could be enrolled in Medicaid for health insurance but not realize that they are also eligible for food benefits.

Separately, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Thursday announced nine grants totaling $2.2 million to support public spaces and digital innovation in Philadelphia neighborhoods.

The biggest of those grants went to Bartram’s Garden ($687,775) to prepare for the expected opening this year of the Schuylkill River Trail swing bridge, which will make it easier to get to Bartram’s Garden from Grey’s Ferry and other neighborhoods east of the Schuylkill River.

Another large grant ($624,244) went to the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to develop Southwest Tree Tenders. Tree Tenders are community volunteers who plant and help maintain trees in the city and beyond.

Other organizations and projects receiving Knight grants are Mural Arts Philadelphia ($250,000), Philadelphia Parks & Recreation ($250,000), Impact Services Corp. ($74,700), Friends of the Rail Park ($145,000), City of Philadelphia, Sensing the City ($72,000), Smith Memorial Playground ($60,000), and Our Plan ($40,000).

Originally published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on April 8th, 2021.