Benefits access in a pandemic: Helping people from the safety of their homes

| By: By: Trooper Sanders

Since our founding in 2005, Benefits Data Trust (BDT) has screened more than one million households across the nation for essential benefits, unlocking over $7.5 billion to help people afford food, housing, healthcare, and more. A core component of BDT’s strategy is its contact center, where expert Benefits Outreach Specialists screen and apply people for multiple benefits over the phone. By combining data, custom software, and highly trained contact center staff, application processes that used to take weeks can be completed in just one phone call.

In the context of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, BDT’s phone- and web-based services are more critical than ever. As the entire nation rapidly adjusts to social distancing and working remotely, BDT has adapted its operations to align with the stay-at-home public health guidelines in Philadelphia (our headquarters) in order to keep staff safe and do our part to stop the spread of the virus.

We have seen an uptick in calls from people who have been affected by the COVID-19 economic downturn. For example, last week we received a call from a recently laid off 44-year-old hotel security guard from Philadelphia who was supporting himself and his mother. During a single phone call, we helped him apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) and Medicaid before submitting his application to the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services electronically.

We also spoke with a 43-year-old mother in New York City who could no longer work because she had to care for her four sons after schools were closed. At the time, her husband, a small business owner, was still going to work each day but barely making any sales. The family was running out of money and food. After a quick screening, BDT submitted an application on their behalf for expedited SNAP benefits worth more than $700 per month.

For these families, and many others, public benefits are a vital lifeline during uncertain times.

BDT is working hard to meet the increased needs of  the people and communities counting on us, to help state and local government partners understand and adapt to new federal laws responding to the COVID-19 emergency, and to find new ways we can support community-based organizations facing increased demand and strain. While these are uncertain times for our country, we stand ready to do our part and to join others to ensure we not only get through these difficult days but that we lay the foundation for more people to enjoy greater health, wellness, and economic security in the future.