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Enhancing Social Safety Net Access through Community Collaboration

Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County

Innovation Summary

Two recent initiatives demonstrate the Library’s commitment to providing access to government services: our partnership with Hamilton County Job & Family Services to support verifications for HCJFS clients, and our partnership with the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority to provide computer access for the Housing Choice Voucher program waiting list.

Innovation Leader: Paula Brehm-Heeger, Library Services Manager, Central Region, paula.brehm-heeger@cincinnatilibrary.org

Problem Statement

Many people who are eligible for work support benefits such as food stamps and Medicaid are not enrolled in those programs in Hamilton County. One reason they are not enrolled is because of the complexity of the application process. The most frequent reason they are denied these benefits is for failure to provide verification of eligibility. The Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority had not offered access to their waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher program in nearly a decade. In 2011, the CMHA offered community members the long awaited opportunity to add their names to the waiting list to be considered for the limited number of available housing vouchers. However, for the first time CMHA offered only online access to the housing voucher waiting list application, with no print application provided. Additionally, the waiting list application was only available to potential clients for one week. Many of those potentially eligible for the voucher program are low-income individuals and families with limited access to computers. The CMHA needed community support for organizations equipped to fill this access gap in order to ensure adequate computer access for the target audience. Additionally, the target audience included individuals who could potentially require one-on-one assistance in filling out an online application.

Innovation

The Library’s three-year long partnership with Hamilton County Job and Family Services gives people a more convenient way to submit verification documents in order to increase participation in essential government benefits programs. Library staff fax verification documents to Hamilton County Job and Family Services for approximately 400 consumers per month The service is free, and available at any of the Library’s 41 locations. Since HCHFS does not have locations throughout the County, this fax service is providing many of the community’s neediest members with a convenient method for delivering the required documentation to their case workers at Job & Family Services, and, in turn, providing them the opportunity to receive essential benefits. In March 2011, the Library extended this history of successful and meaningful civic engagement when the Cincinnati Metropolitan Housing Authority (CMHA) opened their waiting list for the Housing Choice Voucher program. The Library and the CMHA partnered in offering targeted computer access and assistance in support of the housing choice voucher program. The Library reserved computers at 17 branch locations throughout the city and county and also the Main Library for the week during which the Housing Choice Voucher Waiting List was available. The CMHA provided staff and volunteers to these library locations to be on hand during designated hours in order to assist interested individuals in filling out the online application.

Progress

The Library’s partnership with Hamilton County Jobs and Family Services has a proven track record of success. For example, in 2010, the Library faxed more than 10,000 documents for HCJFS clients, and in the first half of 2011, the total had already reached nearly 9500. More than 19,200 families applied during the week the Housing Choice Voucher program was available from CMHA. Through the Library partnership, CMHA was able to provide adequate access for the community to this in-demand service. No individual locations were overwhelmed. Community members were able to gain access to the online application and were not denied an opportunity to add their names to the waiting list due to little or no access to public computers. CMHA avoided the expense of printing and distributing print documents. The Library and CMHA partnered on a marketing blitz to advertise this initiative. This marketing push offered the Library a chance to reach potentially new customers and to demonstrate to the community at large the valuable public services a library provides to those in need.