The coronavirus pandemic has kept many people at a standstill, but at least one anti-poverty organization in Philadelphia said the crisis has had the opposite effect.
“We've seen a big swing in two weeks,” said ML Wernecke, policy director with Benefits Data Trust.
The nonprofit connects needy people to benefits and services. It can be described as a one-stop-shop, where outreach specialists help individuals secure assistance for unemployment benefits, utility, food or health care.
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BDT has locations in Colorado, Maryland, New York, North Carolina, South Carolina and Pennsylvania. But in Philadelphia, its center receives funds from the city.
Ever since the coronavirus pandemic forced people out of work, more have turned to the nonprofit.
“Last week, we saw a 79% increase in calls,” Wernecke said.
As opposed to other groups, BDT conducts many of its services over the phone, so applicants can get help without leaving their homes. That’s come in handy in recent weeks, as the state and federal governments have issued stay-at-home orders to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“That’s only going to continue because more people are going to need help. They can’t walk into government offices [because of the outbreak],” Wernecke said.
Wernecke also said many of the people asking for help are first timers — they’ve never applied for government assistance before.
“We’ve had a lot of people who have never received unemployment insurance, had access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or gotten help with utilities. Some are ashamed to ask for help. There’s still that stigma," she said.
But Wernecke stresses that BDT is there to help people during difficult times. Individuals can reach a BDT outreach specialist by contacting BenePhilly at 833- 373-5868.