Taking Benefits Outreach on the Road: The Alabama Experience
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Taking Benefits Outreach on the Road: The Alabama Experience

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June 4, 2010

The South Alabama Regional Planning Commission (SARPC) Area Agency on Aging works in three coastal counties to identify and connect economically vulnerable elderly to services and benefits that will improve their health and well-being. Since becoming an NCOA-funded Benefits Enrollment Center in early 2009, SARPC has developed customized “road show” events to reach out to older adults and those with disabilities and enroll them in public benefits programs.

Who was the target audience?

Persons aged 55+ and younger adults with disabilities who are potentially eligible for public benefit programs.

What did they do?

SARPC worked with community partners to host large-scale, one-day-only outreach events in communities across southern Alabama with large numbers of economically vulnerable residents. The following strategies were instrumental to the success of the events:

  • Draw heavily on partners and local resources.  Because the events were conducted “on the road”, local partners were essential to identifying which communities to target, and how to get messages across. Community partners assisted with publicizing the events through local radio, churches, senior groups, and newspapers; they also were able to identify where information needed to be offered in low literacy versions and other languages. Often, they recruited influential local citizens (e.g. town mayors) to draw more attention to and attendance at the events. Involving local agencies meant that SARPC didn’t have to organize the events alone, and they never had to pay for renting a facility for the events, which typically were held in city buildings. Partners from local agencies (including the Social Security Administration, Medicaid offices, Community Action Agencies and the Department of Human Resources) were on site at the events to directly assist with applications and answer questions about programs. This gave the public an accessible way to ask questions about program eligibility and greatly reduced the barriers to receiving services.
  • Be truthful in advertising.  In a region where many residents may have received monetary or other assistance following Hurricane Katrina, it was important for SARPC to stress that the events focused on benefits screening and application assistance, rather than giveaways/product sales. In all of their event publicity, SARPC clearly explained who the events were targeted to (i.e. persons with limited income/resources) and what they could expect from attending.
  • Include something for everyone. While the enrollment events focused on core benefits programs – Medicaid, Medicare Part D Low-Income Subsidy (LIS), Supplemental Security Income and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly Food Stamps) – SARPC also solicited other charitable agencies (e.g. dental clinic, food ministry, free cellular phone service, legal counseling for older adults) to provide information about their services. In this way, even those who may not have been found eligible for benefits programs could obtain useful information about other community services.

What was the result?

The six enrollment events attracted between 200-400 participants each. Thanks to the local partners being present at the events, almost all of the nearly 1,350 participants received a BenefitsCheckUp® screening and application assistance on-site, and most were found eligible for at least one core or optional benefit. Julie McGee, Director of the SARPC Area Agency on Aging, observed that “what we have seen locally are agencies trying to copy our large enrollment event model for their own programs…everyone has been so positive about the success of this model.”

The road show events were one of several effective outreach strategies employed by SARPC. A targeted mailing by their partners at the Mobile County Health Department to 2,000 patients aged 55+ generated a 75% response rate and significant number of callers approaching SARPC about benefits screenings. SARPC also had staff on-site at Community Action Agencies at selected times to conduct outreach, as well as placed flyers at partner agencies and cross-trained staff to integrate BenefitsCheckUp® into their general operations. The result was more than 5,500 persons screened during the year – with a potential total value of benefits exceeding $5 million.

All of these activities have solidified SARPC’s strong reputation in the southern Alabama area. More importantly, they have contributed to a culture change within SARPC, as it moves from being program-focused to person-focused. Julie McGee noted that the events offered her staff an opportunity “to get a better look at how our clients live and their needs. In this way, we are now looking at systems change, keeping people out of institutions, and a more structured way of thinking about economic issues.”

For more information

Julie McGee, AAA Director
110 Beauregard, Suite 207
P.O. Box 1665
Mobile, AL 36633
(251) 706-4623
jmcgee@sarpc.org

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