Life is beginning to resemble something normal again, but the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are far from over. While the coronavirus has exacted its toll in a number of ways, one of the most evident is the economic impact acutely felt in communities across the country. Luckily, a large variety of groups have stepped up during the past couple months to help offset these impacts in whatever ways they can, some of which are specially geared toward this type of service. In this latest installment of our #CombatingCoronavirus series we’re highlighting Benefits Data Trust and the important work it does to maximize government program efficiency while connecting individuals with needed services– both in the best of times and, especially, now as we weather the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic fallout together.

Social Good While Social Distancing

Benefits Data Trust (BDT) is a Philadelphia-based not-for-profit that partners with government entities, community organizations and more to leverage data and connect eligible citizens with essential benefits for which they qualify. Whether it’s not realizing that they qualify, or having difficulty applying for said benefits, BDT’s data-driven telephone outreach helps beneficiaries to overcome these obstacles and ensure that government-funded benefits are actually and effectively serving the people they’re intended to. BDT’s work is immensely important in “normal” times, and becomes even more crucial now as increasing numbers of individuals find themselves unable to pay the bills.

The mass job loss that accompanied the initial surge of coronavirus cases in the U.S. was unprecedented, and, while the rising unemployment rate has slowed, it certainly has not stopped. Just last week experts announced that we are officially in an economic recession, and have been since the pandemic began in February. As a result of the pandemic and related economic downturn many families now struggle to put food on the table, many already-food insecure individuals face additional challenges, and it’s unclear when the situation might improve. As a result, more people are forced to turn to public benefits to help make ends meet, and, not surprisingly, BDT has seen the number of requests for help accessing benefits increase since the pandemic began.

In its hometown of Philly, BDT works directly with the city as well as with community-based organizations across Philadelphia to ensure that as many people as possible who are eligible for benefits, get those benefits. In relation to COVID-19, BDT CEO Trooper Sanders said, “We have found that our call volume has increased in some cases 70 to 80 percent more than was the case before the pandemic erupted. We are staffing up, we are making ourselves available to the community.” As Philadelphia and greater Pennsylvania endure the pandemic and related economic distress, BDT works to help its citizens secure financial, food and medical help.

Here in North Carolina BDT’s target and scope of work varies yet remains vital– especially during this unprecedented time. BDT partners with the state Department of Health & Human Services (NC DHHS) to help dual-eligible (aka Medicaid- and Medicare-eligible) seniors that qualify for SNAP benefits to enroll in that federal program and access the critical nutrition benefits they need. Ultimately this is a win-win for North Carolina as its senior citizens stay healthier and therefore stay out of hospitals and nursing homes, equating to a Medicaid cost-savings to the state. Consider this at a time when keeping people out of the hospital– especially older, at-risk individuals– has taken on an entirely new sense of urgency, as has saving dollars wherever possible to keep the government running and continuing to serve its people.

BDT’s work in North Carolina and elsewhere exemplifies the best of what private-public partnerships can accomplish. “Hundreds of millions of dollars of benefits that can help people buy groceries, get healthcare, heat their homes, go left on the table every year,” according to BDT CEO Trooper Sanders. Maximizing those dollars and getting individuals the services they need ends up benefiting everyone.