The number one reason people don’t apply for financial aid, and the reason so much goes unclaimed, is because of the long and frustrating application process. In fact, in the state of Illinois, the application process equates to filling out an 18-page application, submitting up to 10 required documents, sitting in on a 90-minute phone call, and spending endless hours at a public aid office.
Instead of that time-consuming and confusing method, people in need of government assistance can now answer a few questions via text, and know in less than five minutes if they qualify for food stamps with this Chicago-based organization.
— mRelief (@mRelief_form) January 26, 2016
mRelief is a nonprofit connecting you to the best resources in your community. Their mission is to help low-income families better discover public assistance programs they might qualify for and streamline the actual social service delivery for program providers.
Innovators behind mRelief developed a technology tool so that any one of the 52,000+ social service organizations and 3,400 city governments that they’ve identified nationwide can have a tool to easily customize their own eligibility screeners, without any computer programming prerequisites.
mRelief Founders Rose Afriyie and Genevieve Nielsen each saw problems within the government aid system in different ways (and in different countries), and came together to solve them.
Afriyie, inspired by her experiences living in Ghana in Sub Saharan Africa, witnessed the difficulty people in need faced with getting government assistance and started thinking of ways she could help. Meanwhile, Genevieve saw the breakdown of the social safety net in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, which continues to be the source of motivation for the work she does today.
“Our platform has been inspired from novel solutions deployed in places where much of the world isn’t yet online,” Afriyie told us. “But we only use this platform to solve problems right here at home.”
Emerging from the Chi Hack Night community during their time spent at the Starter League, a coding school in Chicago, Afriyie and Nielsen learned about the challenges of social service delivery in Chicago, where they found out from the 10,000 people eligible for a particular program, only 400 were receiving the benefits.
Already helping over 100,000 families easily access social services, the founders of the nonprofit are happy to see tangible change in people’s lives. Using technology as a tool to bridge gaps between socioeconomic groups, according to Afriyie, has served communities well.
“We are proud to help our users maintain their dignity through privacy,” Afriyie remarked. “Our platform lessens the amount of personal information they have to share in order to receive assistance.”
— mRelief (@mRelief_form) August 8, 2015
How does it work?
Individuals and families in need answer 10 simple questions that take less than five minutes to answer on the mRelief site or app. Once members determine they are eligible, they are directed to the best way to apply to the SNAP program through their state and are handed over to their state’s policy.
From there, members are working with their residing state, but the mRelief team is always available and willing to help eliminate user issues that may come up along the way.
While the nonprofit’s main focus is currently on the SNAP program, in Chicago, there are links to eligibility tools through a partnership with the Catholic Charities to help people connect to rent assistance and more.
The program is offered to people residing in 42 states, due to the eligibility information based on a data set published by the USDA on data.gov, which covers the 42 eligible states. Afriyie tells us she hopes to build their partnerships to secure more eligibility data for all 50 states.
“We want to create an end-to-end user-friendly process that facilitates a painless journey through eligibility, applications and receiving social services,” she said.
In addition to expanding to all U.S. states, mRelief’s goals include getting governments to replicate their model, pursuing innovative distribution partnerships available in the digital era. The nonprofit is also working on getting everyday people to support families in their local communities.
“We are creating a vibrant constituency of SNAP enrolled families to share knowledge that enables them to successfully apply and transition when they are ready,” Afriyie said. “Our aim is to help anyone in need take one small step that unlocks a support system enabling them to get through the entire process.”