A Look Back: The Benefit Bank

Former CSS program assistant Terry Leos helps a client navigate the Benefit Bank Program.

Benefit Bank provided an efficient tool for helping the poor

By TIM WENZL
Southwest Kansas Register

Catholic Social Service case workers used a computer program known as The Benefit Bank to assist the poor in accessing state and federal benefits from 2006 to 2012. 

The Kansas Benefit Bank was a one-stop shop for services and benefits that support low-wage working families. Catholic Social Service became a partner in these efforts when Inter-Faith Ministries in Wichita sought to expand the use of the program in southwest Kansas. 

The Benefit Bank wasn't actually a bank, but a free and easy way for people to learn if they were potentially eligible for a wide array of federal and state-level benefits. Staff and volunteers used web-based software developed by Philadelphia-based Solutions for Progress. This simplified the application process for benefits such as food stamps, health insurance, childcare subsidies, and tax credits and refunds.

The system was set up so that both the guide and the client could view the screen and work on the process together. Members of the Fred and Dora Doll family donated more than $10,000 to cover the cost of translating the Benefit Bank software from English to Spanish.

After a Benefit Bank guide helped a client complete the paper work, the individual took the papers to the office of Social Rehabilitation Services (SRS) where they were processed by licensed case workers. Because the paper work was complete, SRS was able to process the information in a matter of a day or less, rather than the 10 days needed without the Benefit Bank's help.

Pattie McGurk served as the coordinator of The Benefit Bank. There were five Benefit Bank sites in the diocese:

  • the Cathederal of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Dodge City;
  • the CSS office in Dodge City;
  • St John the Apostle Church in St John;
  • the CSS office in Garden City; and
  • the CSS office in Great Bend.

Edie Loughmiller assisted at the Cathedral; Terry Leos at the CSS office in Dodge City; Jo Rael at St John; and Patty Sanders and Gabriela Moreno with AmeriCorps were 'counselors' at the CSS office in Great Bend. 

After 2012, Inter-Faith Ministries no longer committed resources to the project and without that support Catholic Social Service was not able to use The Benefit Bank software. CSS counselors do, however, continue to complete paper applications for those who qualify for Food Stamps, cash assistance and a medical card. Maria Gutierrez and Brooke Hamlin-Lopez provide this assistance in the Dodge City and Garden City offices, respectively. A group of volunteers provides this assistance in the Great Bend office.

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