How to Strengthen Partners' Knowledge about Public Benefits
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How to Strengthen Partners' Knowledge about Public Benefits

September 24, 2009

A strong network of community-based partners can help to extend your reach throughout the community as you try to find and enroll people in public benefit programs. But how can you be sure that your partners are knowledgeable about the benefit programs you care about and well-versed in completing applications? We'll share with you how AgeOptions of suburban Cook County, Illinois gave their partners the tools they needed to “hit the ground running” and successfully complete benefit applications for multiple programs.

Who was the target audience?

Community-based partner organizations that will be completing applications for select public benefit programs.

What did they do?

AgeOptions, the Area Agency on Aging for suburban Cook County and a National Center for Benefits Outreach and Enrollment grantee, decided to develop “Forms 101”, a unique training opportunity that enabled partners to round out their benefit program eligibility knowledge and application forms skill set. AgeOptions personnel, in conjunction with representatives from the various agencies that administer the benefit programs, delivered the in-person training.

Forms 101 training included the following:

  • An overview of the application forms from all of the key benefit programs (Extra Help/Low Income Subsidy benefit available under Medicare Part D, Medicare Savings Programs, State Pharmaceutical Assistance Program, Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] and Low income Home Energy Assistance Program [LIHEAP]) and a discussion of each form's purpose;
  • A discussion of each program's eligibility requirements;
  • The use of a case study client to assess eligibility and to fill out the appropriate forms for submission;
  • A detailed review of the completed forms; and 
  • A discussion of tips for successful completion of application forms. The tips discussion was especially valuable because it allowed trainers to share nuances of each of the particular applications. For example, forms from one agency in their state required that every question had to have an answer, even if the question was not applicable. By placing an N/A or drawing a line in place of an answer, the application review staff could see that the question was answered and not skipped, which would have caused the application to be returned to the applicant for completion and resubmission.

What was the result?

Partners tasked with completing applications gained relevant knowledge about how to complete specific benefit applications. After the Forms 101 hands-on training, partners felt more confident about program eligibility requirements and how to successfully complete the required applications.

Key to the success of Forms 101 was the opportunity for partners to gain application knowledge from trainers who had in-depth experience on how to complete the applications for successful submittals in a supportive and encouraging environment.

Forms 101 also delivered an additional benefit. It helped to solidify the partnership between the Benefits Enrollment Centers and the agencies who administer the applications. The staff at those agencies felt that the Benefits Enrollment Center counselors were actually assisting them with their case work instead of creating additional work for them, making for a win-win relationship.

For more information

Maribeth Stein
1048 Lake Street
Suite 300
Oak Park, Illinois 60301
(708) 383-0258


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