Financial Literacy : EarnBenefits Program, Atlanta
Program/Practice Name: EarnBenefits Program, Atlanta
Agency Name: Seedco
Type of Program/Practice: The Atlanta implementation of Seedco partners with existing organizations to implement the EarnBenefits program, which connects low–wage workers to a wide range of income–enhancing benefits that have a proven impact on long–term job retention and asset accumulation.
Program/Practice Description: The EarnBenefits program employs trained counselors who consult personally with low–wage workers and use an online Web–based system that dynamically screens clients for one or more benefits, stores their data for future use, and assists clients in electronically filling the application form associated with the benefits they are interested in applying for, from school lunch programs for a child to prescription assistance programs. The counselor follows up to ensure the worker is receiving the benefit and to recommend other options that may become available later. In Atlanta, Seedco does not operate a client–facing center, but partners with local organizations such as the Atlanta Workforce Development Agency and Sheltering Arms, an early education and family center, in addition to partnering with a network of 13 local organizations in the metro Atlanta area and 5 community partners in Savannah. The network consists of workforce development agencies, local churches, daycare centers, community and faith-based organizations.
Background/Program History: The Atlanta Office launched in January 2006. After developing the technology through a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Earned Benefits Baltimore Initiative, Seedco made presentations at several conferences, which facilitated the connection to the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation in March 2005.
Innovations and Results: Seedco has expanded its operations to additional locations through flexible structuring and strategic partnerships. In Atlanta and Savannah, Seedco has identified eighteen community–based organizations that serve low–income families to implement the EarnBenefits program. Seedco enables its partners to use EarnBenefits Online, a computer program that screens participants for eligibility, assists with the completion of applications, and manages the participant files, making it easy for caseworkers to find the best options for each participant and to keep track of the case history. Since beginning Atlanta operations in 2006, the EarnBenefits program has resulted in 20,140 households being screened and 12,202 households receiving at least one benefit that boosts their income, at a value of $17,675,723.
Operations: When Seedco partners with an organization to implement the EarnBenefits program, operations consist of five main steps. First, the local organization uses Seedco's outreach and marketing materials to inform low–income families of their opportunities through the EarnBenefits program. Once clients volunteer to be screened, the counselor at any partner organization uses EarnBenefits Online to screen customers. Next, the EarnBenefits staff assists clients in filling out complex government applications. Seedco collects these forms and submits them to the appropriate determining agency, e.g. Division of Family and Children Services for eligibility approval. Seedco then works with the partner organization to conduct benefits management, which occurs after a low–wage worker has accessed benefits and work supports. During this phase, the counselor maintains contact with the client, assisting with recertification and additional resources that the client might need.
Funding: Seedco receives funding from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation, the Georgia Department of Human Services, United Way of Metropolitan Atlanta, the Walmart Foundation and the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services to assist with operations in the Atlanta area. The EarnBenefits program is meant to be integrated into other parts of a partner organization's existing programs. For example, the One–Stop submitted a proposal to the mayor of Atlanta when planning to implement the program. The funding received from the Georgia Department of Human Resources Food Stamp Outreach Program provides a 50–50 match for all outreach funding. The funding received for Food Stamp Outreach has allowed Seedco to leverage that funding with workforce development services at the One–Stop. The size of these grants depends on the organization's capacity and the target numbers of enrollees. Seedco's Atlanta staff facilitates monthly meetings to keep partner organizations aware of progress toward target numbers and identify any gaps. Otherwise, by integrating the EarnBenefits program into other aspects of their programming, partner organizations do not have to obtain significant funding for the implementation of the additional program.
Staffing: EarnBenefits staffing requirements are extremely flexible and may be absorbed easily by other aspects of a partner organization's service offerings. For example, The Center for Working Families Inc. one of the local partners in Atlanta leverages their Coaches (case management staff) who work closely with participants at the Center daily. The Atlanta One–Stop uses its case managers and retention counselors to conduct the EarnBenefits operations. In addition, much of the EITC outreach success came through offering free tax preparation in a partnership with AARP that has retirees assisting with tax preparation and EarnBenefits.
Forming Partnerships: At first, Seedco did not work with workforce development agencies; the program focused primarily on child care centers. Seedco soon realized that some of its child care partners were not effective places to implement the EarnBenefits programs. Only those centers that sustained high levels of client interaction proved able to screen and enroll appropriate numbers of customers. For example, Seedco’s partnership with Sheltering Arms became successful because this child care center provides family support services in addition to daycare and Head Start programming. Sheltering Arms built information on EarnBenefits into its enrollment forms and initial family support process to make EarnBenefits screening an integrated aspect of services to all families. Since the initial partners, Seedco has expanded the types of organizations that it partners with; they vary in size and target population, they developed a streamlined set of criteria when identifying new partners. Seedco is interested in partners;
- That are interested in building the capacity of their organizations while integrating a benefits access tool, the concept of targets and agency accountability to enhance their organizations self–sufficiency goals;
- That have may have identified self–sufficiency goals, but have not formalized this process;
- That have a strong human service programming within their organization that results in a strong client flow; and
- That are located in or near communities with a high number of income eligible clients, and that have access to public transportation if available.
Tips to Implementation/Keys to Success: Seedco and its Atlanta partners offer several tips to successful implementation of the EarnBenefits program. First, they recommend organizations consider their customer demographics and customer flow. Second, they recommend organizations consider their model of business and priorities to determine whether EarnBenefits is a fit. Third, organizations must feel comfortable sharing data, as partners in a given location will share successes and brainstorm for solutions. Seedco notes this can be a challenge for organizations that are not used to sharing data.
Keys to Success: Seedco notes the following keys to success:
- Effective partnerships occur when organizations are clear about how each side operates, what are the populations they serve, and what are the expectations and goals of each.
- Seedco's monthly meetings bring all its local area partners together for goal setting and peer sharing.
- Seedco emphasized the need to work with leaders of organizations who have the ability and creativity to leverage existing operations in ways that conserve resources.
The following tools are associated with EarnBenefits Program, Atlanta. Please send us an email for more information about these tools.
Atlanta EarnBenefits Flyer
Atlanta EarnBenefits Brochure
Authorization and Consent to Release Information
Program Reporting Requirements for EarnBenefits Community Partners
EarnBenefits Needed Documents Checklist
Child and Family Interest Survey
Family Development Empowerment Plan
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