Oakland Food Stamp Program Uses Technology to Strengthen Outreach (Continued)
Electronic Tool Handles Application Pre-Screening through Submission
|Food stamps help low-income families to access nutritious food as they work toward self-sufficiency.|
Food stamps can help to bridge the gap between what poor families earn and what they need to meet their basic needs – including buying food. The Alameda County Social Service Agency reports that 2,650 households in Lower San Antonio participate in the food stamp program, but approximately 21,650 families in the neighborhood are eligible. Three organizations—the Alameda County Community Food Bank (ACCFB), Making Connections Oakland, and the California Association of Food Banks (CAFB)—with the support of Casey and others, are working hard to close the gap.
“About two years ago, we looked at the places where Casey is engaged to see how we could strengthen work supports beyond the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC),” says Bonnie Howard, senior associate in Casey’s Family Economic Success unit. “We saw that the take-up rate for food stamps was low. We were looking for innovative ways to do outreach around food stamps and other benefits, so people can get access to all the work supports they are eligible to receive. And, we were particularly interested in electronic procedures, so the process would be quick and get beyond the barriers. We were interested in how technology could improve outreach and enrollment.”
Casey’s interest was well-timed. The Los Angeles Regional Food Bank had already developed an electronic screening tool, and the CAFB wanted to further develop it to include the application process. Thus was born the Oakland Work Supports Pilot, an effort to increase the number and percentage of eligible residents in the Lower San Antonio neighborhood who receive food stamps, and to accomplish this growth through using the new Food Stamp Application and Screening Tool (FAST). The pilot program began in February 2007.
Jessica Bartholow, statewide program manager for Food Stamp Outreach and Nutrition Education at the CAFB, had clear insights into the challenges of working with the Lower San Antonio neighborhood and the improvements needed in the screening and application process: she had managed policy, outreach and advocacy for the Alameda County Community Food Bank for six years prior to joining the CAFB.
“The use of the electronic tool began in February of 2007, with a Casey grant,” Jessica explains. “Trained staff began using the electronic system for the full submission, not just prescreening. We knew that with such a diverse community, the process must be simple—outreach is complicated enough. The county, the Alameda County Community Food Bank, and other partners had worked for years to hone in on what a successful food stamp application looks like. Filling out the application is only part of it; verifying documents is very important, so a well-trained and experienced staff is critical. One thing that has enhanced our success is a strong feedback loop from clients to the county, what’s working and what’s not. With the FAST system, everything is well-tracked, and we can understand where people fell out of the process.”
Although other counties in California use electronic systems to prescreen applicants, and some provide online application forms, Alameda County is the first in the state—and perhaps in the U.S.—to complete the entire process electronically.