Extension office to house one-stop shop for social services

     When it comes to social services, there are many programs out there to help people.
     Whether in the form of food stamps, financial assistance, medical care or child care, the task of enrolling in those programs can be daunting, especially for someone already living dollar-to-dollar who can’t afford to drive to all those locations or take time off from a minimum wage job.
     With the number of people in poverty up to 39.8 million from 37.3 million in 2007 — including 12.9 percent of Hoosiers — and 10.2 percent unemployment in the state, the need for those services is all the more pressing.
     “That is one reason why we have so many people in Whitley County in need,” Tracey Peterson, executive director of the Whitley County Literacy Council said of local residents in need of services.
     To make enrollment for those services easier, the literacy council will partner with the Purdue Extension Office to offer a central hub for enrollment or review of those services.
     Indiana received funding in the last several months for a program called Benefit Bank that makes sure all the services available are used by the people who need them. Eight counties have trained for the program and have it in use and Whitley County will be soon to follow.
     “It is still very new for Indiana,” said Cindy Barnett, extension educator. Local training is planned in October.
     Anyone who visits the office, that will be located in the extension office in the coming months, will be able to meet with literacy council and extension office staff who will help them complete all needed forms for various agencies that could provide support.
     “We’ll now be able to help them get in the programs they need,” Peterson said.
     The literacy council approached the county commissioners in recent months to seek a space in a county building in the near future and was able to come to the agreement with Purdue.
     “It’s going to be very small to start with, but it will grow,” Barnett said.
     Staff at the Benefit Bank will fax or mail applications to the respective agency someone hopes to get assistance from, rather than that person making several stops in a day.
     “It allows them to not go door-to-door,” literacy council board member Sandy Slone said.
     For someone who deals with people on a daily basis who struggle to read, Peterson knows how daunting a task it can be to complete dozens of forms in a day.
     She said the literacy council serves nearly 300 people, many of which are on assistance programs.
     Slone said the literacy council approached the Whitley County Transit program for vouchers for residents outside of Columbia City who need transportation to the central office.
     Tutors with the literacy council also meet with clients at the libraries in South Whitley and Churubusco and may be able to use those visits as a way to offer the Benefit Bank program in those towns.