Debby* was working full-time at a homeless shelter in January 2021 when she gave birth to her first child, a baby boy. Her baby was born prematurely and needed to spend time in the neonatal intensive care unit. Suddenly, Debby needed to leave her job much earlier than expected and manage the stress of being a first-time, single mom to a fragile baby, all without any income.
Debby was resourceful and immediately began to look for ways to keep herself afloat. She applied for Massachusetts’ new paid family leave benefits as well as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, or food stamps), and a cash benefit from the state called Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC). The paid family leave was slow to come through, and both her SNAP and cash aid applications were denied due to missing documentation.
In early February, Debby learned about Fragile Beginnings, a JF&CS program that assists parents of babies who have had a stay in the NICU. When that team learned that Debby had no income, they immediately referred her to the JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Services team, which helps low-income clients navigate complex, burdensome systems to access government benefits they are entitled to and is part of CJP’s Anti-Poverty Initiative.
The team got in touch with Debby right away. She told us that she had enough food for the baby, but that she was going to run out of food the next day for herself. We reached out to Family Table, JF&CS’s kosher food pantry, to arrange for an emergency food delivery. A volunteer delivered food the very next day.
Once the immediate concern of food was addressed, we began to analyze why Debby was denied her benefits. We found mistakes in how the state handled Debby’s applications. We informed the state of the errors and helped Debby file a new application. Debby’s SNAP and TAFDC applications were approved for the maximum benefits, and she was issued retroactive benefits back to her initial date of application. When we first met Debby, her monthly income was $0, and she was not receiving any public benefits. Thanks to our advocacy, her benefits went up to $1,010 per month.
In the spring, Debby’s application for paid family leave was approved, enabling her to go off all public benefits. We are so thrilled that we were able to help bring Debby to a place of stability at such a challenging – and special – time as she became a mom.
In just this one area of JF&CS Bet Tzedek Legal Service’s work, this year we helped 60 families to successfully apply for SNAP, amounting to approximately $250,000 in benefits, or an estimated average of $4,200 per family each year. We also help people maintain their benefits and ensure they receive the maximum benefits they are eligible for. And once people receive SNAP, they are automatically eligible for a host of other benefits, from low-cost internet to free school lunches, low-cost heating, and admission to cultural institutions.
*Debby’s name has been changed to protect her privacy.