State officials announce new program to help connect families in need with benefits

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Posted at 9:42 AM, Dec 06, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-06 09:42:56-05

LANSING, Mich. — Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced on Monday the launch of the MI Benefits Center.

It’s designed to connect families to benefits and lower the cost for Michigan families, according to a news release.

“My top priority every day is to make life easier for Michigan families by delivering change that makes a difference in their lives, and the Mi Benefits Center is the latest innovation to help us lower food costs for Michigan families,” Whitmer said. “By delivering additional relief to Michigan families on their grocery bills, we can ease financial burdens for Michiganders, drive down costs and put more money in people’s pockets, putting Michigan first.”

The MI Benefits Center will have a team of benefits specialists providing personalized, phone-based application assistance to remove barriers that prevent some Michiganders from accessing food support.

MDHHS is partnering with Benefits Data Trust, a nationally recognized leader in improving access to public assistance programs by conducting data-driven outreach and application assistance, as well as by providing policy assistance to states across the country.

With funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and philanthropic organizations, the MI Benefits Center will invest up to $1.2 million in the next year to support Michiganders.

Officials project the outreach specialists will help process 5,000 successful food assistance applications through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The program recently began mailing letters to older adults and others who are likely eligible for food assistance benefits but aren’t yet enrolled.

When people who receive the letter call into the MI Benefits Center, they’ll be connected with a benefits outreach specialist who will screen them for benefits, offer to help with collecting required application documents and submit applications on their behalf.

State officials say this personalized attention may help relieve pressure for people who struggle with the application, streamline the process and increase the success rate of those applications.

“We know Michiganders in need often face multiple hurdles to access the support services that will help them feed their families,” MDHHS Director Elizabeth Hertel said. “Our goal is to reduce and eliminate those hurdles as much as possible. This outreach effort is our latest effort in the past few months to ensure everyone who qualifies for support can gain access.”