CDF Minnesota’s Bridge to Benefits project basically consists of two steps– 1) screening low-income families for potential eligibility in Minnesota’s work support and tax credit programs and 2) helping families complete the application process for the programs for which they appear eligible.
Step One, Screening: Bridge to Benefits relies on an online screening tool (www.bridgetobenefits.org). By completing the screening process, which takes less than 10 minutes, a family can find out if they are potentially eligible for the seven public programs and two tax credits. The site also provides descriptions of each program, tips on how to apply, a list of verifications required for each program, downloadable applications and information on where to apply for each program. The site will also lead families to any organizations within their counties that provide one-on-one application assistance for the programs. The site is quick and simple to use and although it is available to any family to use on their own, CDF Minnesota believes the website is most effective when used as part of a community-wide program to support working families. Thus, CDF Minnesota looks to recruit community organizations that serve a large number of working families and are willing to integrate the Bridge to Benefits screening into their everyday work. The screening tool enhances the ability to provide resources to families in a one-stop approach. Potential screening organizations may be schools, job placement centers, social service agencies, housing organizations, family resource centers, family service collaboratives, WIC sites, Head Start programs, etc.
Step Two, Application Assistance: CDF Minnesota also seeks to identify local organizations that can help families complete the enrollment process for one or more of the public programs to ensure families get enrolled if they are eligible. These “application assistance” organizations provide families with the one-on-one assistance (such as completing a program application) that may be required to overcome the many obstacles that prevent families from participating in public programs. Examples of this type of organization may be a Community Action Agency that provides assistance in applying for energy assistance, a food shelf that helps families apply for food support, or a health care organization that helps families apply for Medical Assistance. CDF Minnesota has already identified a few statewide partners that will provide this type of assistance. A family that is screened at one of the screening organizations will be directly referred to one or more the application assistance organizations to help them complete the application processes. A direct referral means that a family’s contact information is forwarded – via the Bridge to Benefits website — to the application assistance organizations, which agree to follow up with that family about starting the enrollment process. This relieves the family of the burden of contacting multiple organizations in order to receive help in applying to programs. This electronic screening and direct referral process is what elevates CDF’s Bridge to Benefits project beyond a typical resource and referral project.