An AARP Foundation pilot project designed to help people learn what public benefits they qualify for is leading to the discovery that there is more need for such assistance than people might think.
See Also: What is the SNAP Benefit?
The AARP Foundation’s Benefits QuickLink is a pilot project underway in several states, including New Mexico, designed to help people determine the public programs, such as food stamps (now called SNAP), energy assistance, or Medicaid services that they might qualify for. The project is in its second year in New Mexico and is currently tied to the AARP Foundation Tax Aide Program.
AARP volunteers talked with people waiting to have their taxes done to see if they’d be interested in visiting the Benefits QuickLink site to see what benefits they might be eligible for.
“I don’t think you realize the need that exists in the community until you visit with some of these folks,” said Adolphus “Dolph” Bunkley. “You realize there is a real need for a social safety net and for health insurance – there’s a need for many things.”
“While I had some people say they didn’t need assistance, almost everyone I spoke to said they knew someone that did,” Bunkley said.
He said that people either don’t know that certain benefits exist or they don’t know how to navigate the system to sign-up for the benefits.
One thing that is especially helpful with the Benefits QuickLink site is when a person determines what programs an individual qualifies for, the necessary forms to sign up for those programs can be printed out immediately.
“Then all they have to do is fill them out and turn them in,” Bunkley said.
Ruth Ledesma, another AARP volunteer helping with the program, said, “I found a lot of the people I talked with, the people who seemed to be significantly in need, were the ones who didn’t think they were eligible for any help because they weren’t – to their way of thinking – that bad off, when in fact they did qualify for assistance.”
“I had one gentleman, a veteran, who was eligible for all kinds of things. There were veterans’ benefits, tax rebates, weatherizing projects. He knew about food stamps. But because he had never heard of the programs, it never crossed his mind to sign up for several programs for which he was eligible,” Ledesma said.
“When this gentlemen left, you could actually see that his step was a little lighter. People use the term ‘downtrodden’ to describe someone down on his luck. You can see that in a person’s posture. When you give them hope, you can see the change – what it means to give a person a little hope, to lighten their burden somewhat,” she said.
The Benefits QuickLink program is a free web-based system. The secure site asks a few questions and takes about 15 minutes to complete. No personal information, such as your name, address or social security number, is requested and no information is stored.
One of the hard parts of the program for volunteers is when they really can’t help a person.
“For some individuals their income was too high so you couldn’t help them. They did have financial challenges such as maybe a large medical bill that was putting a strain on the rest of their budget,” Bunkley said.
“It was sad and frustrating that there wasn’t some way to help them. Because of their income they didn’t qualify for a program,” he said.
Ledesma agreed saying stereotypes about poverty and what it looks like, like most stereotypes, aren’t necessarily true.
“I got sick. I was disabled. It would surprise you who out in your community might be hurting. Sometimes people don’t want other people in their personal business. I tell them pride is always good but it doesn’t put food on the table,” she said.
Anyone who might want to learn about the public benefits program they might be eligible for can visit the Benefits QuickLink site. For more information on the program or to get assistance navigating the site, call 1-877-659-0967 to speak to a volunteer that can go over the website with you.