There’s been a lot of talk about federal safety net programs both on the political campaign trail and during the coronavirus pandemic. Millions of people who may have poo-pooed safety net programs are finding themselves navigating the bureaucracies not only for the first time, but at the worst time. 

Let me first run down the top dozen major federal safety net programs in the chronological order they were introduced in America:

  • Social Security
  • Unemployment Insurance
  • Head Start
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or Food Stamps)
  • Medicare/Medicaid
  • Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI)
  • Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • Federal Pell Grant Program
  • The Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)
  • The Affordable Care Act (ACA or ObamaCare)

Needless to say, a lot of people are going to be unemployed for extended periods and the ones who know how to navigate the social safety net programs the best will get the assistance the fastest. It helps a lot if you’ve applied for any of these programs because you already know what it takes to make it happen. So many first timers are in for a rude awakening. 

Over the past few years working on behalf of my 90+ year old mother, I’ve experienced a first hand taste of how difficult it is to stay on top of the safety net programs the elderly are entitled to. This country does a phenomenal job providing support and services for the elderly, particularly those with low income. However, the process and paperwork required to apply and follow through is difficult, confusing, conflicting, burdensome, and virtually impossible for a senior to do on their own. I’m certain there are millions of seniors not enjoying benefits they’re entitled to just because they don’t know, or simply cannot apply correctly. 

Reading a Philadelphia Inquirer article today on how many coronavirus laid off people will be seeking public assistance, they highlighted one lady who had difficulty applying on her own but connected with Community Legal Services, a Philadelphia organization that had previously helped her get money to pay her utility bills, and they helped submit documentation of her furloughed work status. She received money from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) within a couple weeks.

The article mentioned the increase in calls organizations like Community Legal Services were receiving. 

One such organization, BenePhilly, normally answers about 80 calls a week but answered 323 calls — a 300% increase — during one week in early April. The Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger said it processed about 26% more applications in the last month than its average in the past year. Other states, including New York and New Jersey, saw benefit applications spike as high as 300% in March.

It’s becoming more difficult to get through to these agencies…

…the assistance offices in each county responsible for processing benefit applications have been closed to the public. Applicants have had to endure technical issues with the online application system, long hold times at phone centers, and state employees working split or staggered shifts.

They would love for you to apply online if you can but only 45% submitted online requests in February, growing to 55% in March, according to DHS data.

I was curious if there is a Community Legal Services type organization in Chester or Delaware County to help people through the process. Anyone know?