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Growing up in Michigan, I saw the cycles of economic change, the factory hiring booms and busts, urban decay and renewal, and the struggles farmers faced feeding the world while often unable to afford putting food on their own table. The COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated these challenges and the quest to ensure all Michigan families, urban, suburban, and rural, and both upstate and downstate, can make ends meet, get ahead, and enjoy healthier lives remains. I am proud Benefits Data Trust is joining this effort alongside dedicated public servants, philanthropy, community leaders, and others.
Even before the pandemic, according to United Way’s ALICE Report, 1.5 million households across Michigan struggled to afford basic necessities such as housing, childcare, food, technology, health care, and transportation.
What also became even clearer these past few years is the vital role government programs play in supporting so many families through challenging times. These programs help people put food on the table and secure health care for their children and aging parents. They put parents on a pathway to economic mobility by enabling them to afford to return to college and join a productive workforce. And they create the means for people to keep a roof over their heads and meet life’s essentials.
As Benefits Data Trust continues to focus on making it easier for eligible individuals and families to connect to critical resources at critical times, we are excited to share the launch of the Michigan Benefits Center in partnership with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS). Opening November 29, the Michigan Benefits Center establishes Michigan as the seventh state where BDT is conducting data-driven outreach and helping people apply over the phone for assistance for which they are eligible.
The Michigan Benefit Center will reach out to people currently enrolled in Medicaid and likely eligible for food assistance. In addition, the center will evaluate what works best for different populations, including veterans, people with limited-English proficiency, and older adults. This will inform future outreach strategies and create opportunities for increased collaboration with community-based organizations dedicated to serving particular populations, including those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.
The launch of the center enables us to expand upon our work with the Michigan Health Endowment Fund and MDHSS to help Medicaid participants 50 and older access benefits to pay for food, medicine and housing. It builds on other work with MDHHS, including expanding SNAP eligibility for students enrolled in career and technical education programs, and helping increase participation in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
Early on in the pandemic, Benefits Data Trust began receiving calls from many who were applying for benefits for the first time – people who thought they would never need help or financial assistance. They were frustrated and disheartened to see how difficult it was to find and access the assistance they were eligible for and needed to feed their families, pay their rent or mortgage, and keep the heat on. Those who turned to us included a man from Holland, Mich. battling cancer and other health issues and seeking Medicaid support to pay his hospital bills.
We are grateful for the opportunity to work with public servants in Michigan and across the nation to help people with support from our philanthropic partners — including the Walmart Foundation and Share Our Strength — which helped make it possible to launch the Michigan Benefits Center.
Easy accessibility to government benefits is just one part of a greater roadmap that can help prevent millions from falling into poverty or lift them out of poverty; the Michigan Benefits Center will help us get there.
To learn more about food insecurity in Michigan and how data can help BDT reach and enroll more residents, check out this Q&A with Joshua Rivera, the Economic Stability Administration Policy Director for MDHHS.