This is the first in a series about the CPS Children and Family Benefits Unit and how this dedicated group has helped thousands of CPS families across the city access the benefits available to them.
Many families in Chicago and other urban areas are struggling to stay afloat in today’s hard economic times. Sudden job loss, so common now, only makes an already bad situation worse. Parents may not know where to turn for help or have been put off by the mountains of paperwork they think is required to receive public assistance. As a result, not having enough to eat or the inability to access adequate medical care is a reality that many Chicago public schoolchildren and their families have to face each day—a reality that does nothing to promote academic performance.
That’s where the Chicago Public Schools’ Children and Family Benefits Unit (CFBU) comes in. The sole mission of CFBU is to connect CPS families to the benefits they are entitled to by educating them about their potential eligibility, assisting them with the initial enrollment process and providing assistance on their behalf to ensure that applications are successfully completed and approved.
In addition to a handful of administrative staff in the Central Office, CFBU consists of 14 school-based liaisons, the majority of whom are bilingual and bicultural, located in schools throughout the city. The Liaisons are equipped to enroll families in income-support programs and advocate on their behalf. Additionally, CFBU has a bilingual hotline—3-KIDS (773-553-5437)—which families can call for assistance.
Benefits families may be eligible for include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program(SNAP), otherwise known as food stamps, provides a stable resource to ensure that families have regular access to food.
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), formerly known as welfare, provides cash assistance to needy families with dependent children, potentially increasing a family’s income by up to 33 percent a year.
- Low- or no-cost health insurance: The All Kids program offers many Illinois children comprehensive healthcare that includes doctor’s visits, hospital stays, emergency room care, prescription drugs, asthma inhalers, vision exams and eye glasses, hearing aids, immunizations and dental care. All Kids and FamilyCare (below) provide low-cost or free health insurance.
Similarly, FamilyCare offers healthcare coverage to parents living with their children 18 or younger as well as to relatives (including grandmothers) who are caring for children in place of their parents. Like All Kids, FamilyCare covers doctor visits, dental care, specialty medical services, hospital care, emergency services, prescription drugs and more.
Helping to feed hungry students
The need is out there. According to a recent research study, Hunger in America 2010, conducted by the Mathematica Policy Research Center, food insecurity is rising in the U.S. and disproportionately affecting children. CFBU estimates that there are at least 150,000 CPS families that may be eligible for food stamps, but not currently enrolled.
For thousands of CPS students, the food provided through school breakfast, school lunch, and after school snacks/dinner is their primary source of food. More than 80 percent of the 410,000 students attending CPS schools receive Free or Reduced Price (FRP) Lunch. In 2010 alone, CPS provided 357,000 meals daily to students participating in Breakfast for All and the National School Lunch Program (NSLP).
Unfortunately, without SNAP, the rest of the family lacks food security as do the students when not in school, such as during summer, on weekends, holidays, etc. This lack of food security among CPS students carries devastating consequences for their social and academic success.
Assisting in getting students the healthcare they need
A lack of regular healthcare can have the same consequences since acutely or chronically ill students have higher rates of absenteeism and thus are more apt to do poorly in school. A June 2011 national survey of low-income parents by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) supports this claim. The survey found that children who are uninsured are the least likely to have a regular doctor watching over their health care. Additionally, 44 percent of these parents have had to put off medical care for their children because of cost.
CFBU estimates that more than 50,000 CPS students are eligible for All Kids, but are not currently enrolled. Among the top barriers noted by parents in the CMS survey is the perception that enrollment is difficult, while half (51 percent) think enrolling their child in free- or low-cost medical insurance programs like Medicaid or CHIP would be somewhat (41 percent) or very (10 percent) hard.
The perception of income ineligibility is another top barrier, with 43 percent of parents stating that they strongly or somewhat agree with the statement “my family’s income is too high to be eligible for Medicaid or CHIP.” Additionally, uncertainty about where to apply or get information about Medicaid or CHIP is also a barrier for some, although 39 percent said that they would like someone from their child’s school to help them them fill out an application. The CFBU Liaisons fit this bill.
Helping kids to see better
In a joint effort with the Illinois College of Optometry, and with funding from Medicaid, the CPS Office of Special Education and Supports hosts a fully equipped vision program in one of CPS’s closed schools, Princeton Elementary, located at 5125 S. Princeton. The vision clinic helps students who have failed their required vision screenings and need an eye exam as a result. The clinic serves approximately 30 students each day. CBFU Liaisons reach out to the families of the students scheduled to visit the clinic in advance to enroll them in All Kids as well as SNAP, if eligible. A similar collaboration exists between CFBU and CPS’s mobile dental clinics.
Making the process as easy as possible
“We do our best to address and overcome the many barriers to enrollment. We strive to make the process for enrolling in Medicaid, SNAP, and other benefits as easy as possible, recognizing that this may be perceived as an overwhelming and sensitive exercise for many parents. We can cut through the ‘red tape’ where it exists so parents can successfully navigate through the system,” said Diane Fager, CFBU director.
During the last fiscal year, CFBU provided application assistance for 14,614 children, submitting more than 9,600 applications. “We take each case personally and are dedicated to securing a positive outcome for families we assist,” she added. As an example, for the families that CFBU has assisted in applying for Medicaid and CHIP, the approval rating is almost 90 percent.
“We want every CPS student to achieve to their fullest potential, and having enough food and being in good health are the basics necessary for making that happen,” Fager said.
Readers: Watch this section over the next week for stories of how real-life CPS parents and guardians have been successfully assisted by CFBU.