Program would fight poverty on-site

By: 
Dec. 2, 2010

The Mobile Benefits Program would pursue about $700,000 in neglected federal benefits for the poor. The catch: $57,000 in community funding is needed.

A homeless man sat at a folding table in a closet in the back of an Orlando food pantry.

The Mobile Benefit specialist scanned the man’s documents and turned in his electronic application for government assistance. She asked all the right questions, and what could have been a two-hour struggle was done in 30 minutes, and the man’s application was sent.

This could be the scene here, too, according to the Flagler County Mobile Benefits Program Advisory Board, which wants to bring the program to the county.

The Mobile Benefits Program will assist individuals at a variety of convenient locations and provide user-friendly advice and guidance.

Last year, approximately 3,000 residents in Flagler County did not claim the government assistance they were eligible to receive.

Flagler is missing out on roughly $7,000 per month in food stamps because people either don’t know they were eligible to receive them or did not fill out the paper work to renew their benefits, said Doug Baxter, president of the Flagler County Chamber and Affiliates.

“This is a new face of poverty,” said Sandra Mullen, a representative of United-Way Volusia/Flagler. “These are my friends, my business associates.”

The mission of Mobile Benefits is to reach out to not just the homeless and unemployed but also to the working poor by hiring a Mobile Benefits specialist in Flagler County. The hope is that this will provide better access to the up to $8.6 million annual unclaimed federal funds for Flagler County residents in need.

“We’re not trying to re-invent the wheel,” Baxter said. “We are following successful models in Orlando and Jacksonville.”

The specialist would explain, through on-site assistance, the benefits provided by the government, including food stamps, KidCare, Medicaid and Medicare. The specialist will also help train other providers to do the same and assist with online applications and follow-up.

The projected first-year benefits to Flagler County are $692,640.

But before the program can begin, funds must be raised — $57,000, to be exact. That will support the specialist for two years. After the funds are raised, Second Harvest of North Florida, will support the position.

“It’s going to be a community effort to raise the money,” Baxter said.

Second Harvest is looking to hire within Flagler County for the specialist position.

“The point is to help Flagler County help Flagler County,” said Doug Courtney, advisory board member.

GET INVOLVED

To contribute, visit www.mobilebenefitsprogram.org.
Families of four with $3,600 or less of monthly income are eligible for benefits. To learn more, visit www.myflorida.com/accessflorida.