Case workers throughout New York City have relied on the Community Service Society’s Benefits Plus since it first debuted in 1990 (the most previous edition was the PBRC Manual). Each version of this manual has been expanded to address advocates’ requests so they can more effectively and efficiently assist their clients in accessing needed benefits. This 4th edition is Community Service Society’s boldest expansion to date, both in providing more practical content to the text, as well as taking full advantage of the technology of the Internet to dramatically improve accessibility to our users.
The Benefits Plus Learning Center staff has added significantly to the text based on our experience with case workers over the past 20 years by including information addressing the challenges clients frequently face when attempting to access benefits. We integrated case examples to clarify complex concepts, advocacy tips to assist the advocate in navigating the government bureaucracy, notes explaining special circumstances, government contacts, additional resources, and more.
Benefits Plus’ major asset is that professionals seeking information on public benefits and housing programs are able to go to one resource rather than searching the Internet, government websites and myriad publications for the answers to their clients’ needs.
The first step in developing this 4th edition was crafting a uniform template design. This design is both visually appealing and user friendly, incorporating a consistent chapter outline, more white space, icons, and designing a page that allows the reader to easily find the information s/he is seeking.
Whereas the starting point of the 4th edition was our 3rd edition we did not stop there. Authors integrated a wide variety of source materials in writing the chapters in Benefits Plus, including federal, state and local statutes, government resource manuals, program regulations, agency publications, agency directives, briefs and newsletters, agency websites, as well as interviews with government agency personnel to ensure accuracy and the most up-to-date information. Resource materials are listing in the individual chapters, under the heading of Source Materials.
The Learning Center staff is continuously updating, revising, and adding content to Benefits Plus to provide real-time updates. We use the same source materials as we did in writing the original chapters.
We appreciate any feedback from our subscribers when you are aware of changes in the program we have not captured. Please use the feedback function to alert us to these changes.
A team of authors was assembled to write the chapters, this included the Benefits Plus staff, in addition to attorneys and other experts in the field. All authors are listed in the individual chapter, under the heading of Source Materials.
Most chapters have been vetted by either an expert in the field or personnel at the government agency that administers the benefits. Periodically expert editors continue to review the content to ensure that the text the Learning Center staff has updated is accurately represented. Expert editors are listed in the individual chapters, under the heading of Source Materials.
In addition, each chapter was edited internally by the Benefits Plus editor to ensure text was logical, clear, complete, and consistent.
Expanded Internet Capacity
While this edition is not the first time Benefits Plus is available on the Internet, we have taken advantage of improvement in technology since the online version first became available in 2001.
- Creating a “smart” search engine: The previous online version did not include a search engine. This new online version incorporates a key word search engine that directs readers to sections of the Benefits Plus relevant to an issue they are searching.
- Creating Hyperlinks: The online version directly links to the web site of other agencies and organizations listed in the chapters.
- Creating an e-commerce page: This allows potential subscribers to purchase Benefits Plus via a secured credit card gateway.
- Allowing non-subscribers access to valuable benefit tools: Through the years the Benefits Plus Learning Center has created a number of resources that are helpful to the advocate. These tools are available on the Benefits Plus website, regardless of whether an individual subscribes to Benefits Plus or not. These tools include:
a. The popular SNAP calculator, links to benefit applications available on the Internet, financial eligibility charts for benefit and housing programs, our popular Consumer Benefit Brochures, a comprehensive documentation guide, federal poverty level chart, a listing of housing resources, a listing of government resource guidelines of rules and regulations of various benefit programs, and more.
Jasper Design, of New York City, (http://www.jasperdesign.com) designed and created the online version of Benefits Plus. We appreciate the number of hours they spent to ensure we had a product both visually appealing and easy to navigate.
Diane Wenzler, Director of the Benefits Plus Learning Center