Brooklyn Daily Eagle
On Tuesday, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams kicked off his partnership with Benefit Kitchen, a Brooklyn-based technology platform that won the NYC BigApps contest in 2015, to help identify millions of dollars in financial benefits for New Yorkers in need, according to a press release from Adams’ office. This financial literacy tool, which can be downloaded onto Android or iOS systems, uses state-of-the-art algorithms to determine the eligibility and estimated dollar amounts for more than a dozen federal, state and local benefits.
Last Thursday, he joined the app’s creators, spouses Dan Beeby and Melanie Lavelle, as local families were screened for benefits at St. John’s Bread and Life, a food pantry in Bedford-Stuyvesant that is one of a number of locations where less tech-savvy Brooklynites will be able to get assistance. He announced that his office has allocated to Benefit Kitchen an initial $5,000 grant from his Fiscal Year 2017 budget that will support trainings across the borough, as well as additional outreach that will educate Brooklynites and New Yorkers on how they can take advantage of this platform.
“Since I have entered elected office, I have been long focused on addressing what I see as one of the biggest problems facing Brooklyn — the massive amount of resources we are leaving on the table,” said Adams. “We can’t really fight for additional resources when we’re not exhausting those that are already available, and that includes millions upon millions of unclaimed dollars right here in Brooklyn … Families should not have to choose between filling prescriptions and filling their cupboards. When it comes to helping the working poor and others in need, we can now say, ‘There’s an app for that!’”
Benefit Kitchen is a project of Self-Sufficiency Solutions, which has been building caseworker-facing benefit screening tools for 15 years. The app allows users to learn about their benefit eligibility, which to date has identified an average of $13,000 per household in annual benefits, without asking any personally identifiable information such as one’s name or Social Security number. Benefits that it screens for include Affordable Care Act and Medicaid eligibility and copay; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children eligibility and copay; school- or state-based child care eligibility and copay; Headstart and school meals eligibility; HEAP and Lifeline eligibility, and tax credits such as the child care tax credit, child tax credit and earned income tax credit.
Adams highlighted that tens of billions of dollars, if not more, are unclaimed every year in federal, state and local benefits, all while 10.5 million families live in poverty nationwide. In New York and California, only half of eligible families receive SNAP and a mere 7 percent of eligible families receive all of the top three benefits (SNAP, child care and health care).
Adams praised St. John’s Bread and Life for their role in this Benefit Kitchen partnership, noting that it is it in sync with their full-service approach to assisting underserved New Yorkers. In addition to promoting the app for personal download, this initiative will be bringing screenings to this facility as well as sites such as his office’s Constituent Assistance Center, community board offices, child care centers, schools, senior centers and social service agencies.
“Poverty should not mean the lack of dignity,” said Adams. “As Bedford-Stuyvesant continues to grow and become an attractive place where people want to live, we need to ensure that people who have been here have a place to stay.”