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Website helps families see if they qualify for assistance

WILLMAR -- Forty percent of Minnesota families that would be eligible for food support have not applied for it.

Seventy percent of those eligible for energy assistance aren't receiving it.

One-fifth of eligible families aren't claiming the Earned Income Tax Credit or Working Family Credit on their taxes.

The Children's Defense Fund has developed the Bridge to Benefits website, available in a number of states to help people determine if they are eligible for a variety of public assistance programs.

The website is www.

Stephanie Hogenson, an outreach specialist with the Children's Defense Fund of Minnesota, explained the website to representatives of area schools and social service agencies at a meeting recently in Willmar that was sponsored by the Children's Defense Fund.

The site is aimed particularly at people whose income is just above federal poverty guidelines, she said.

A confidential screening tool on the website will use income and family size to determine whether families may be eligible for seven public assistance programs and the two tax credits.

It also contains information about each program and advice about how to apply. Downloadable applications are available, along with information about how to find organizations in the area that provide one-on-one application assistance.

The programs are food support, MinnesotaCare or Medical Assistance, child care assistance, energy assistance, school meal program and WIC.

Hogenson said the programs are intended to help working families improve the stability in their lives and give children a healthier start in life by providing better nutrition and safer environments.

"They are valuable assets to our communities," she said. "They bring millions of federal dollars into local businesses and help build community stability."

Children's Defense Fund is seeking local agencies that assist low-income families. They would become partners on the site, which would refer potential recipients for help.

Linda Vanderwerf

I cover education issues for the West Central Tribune and have worked for the paper since 1995. I have worked in journalism since 1981.

Follow me on Twitter: @lindavanderwerf

(320) 214-4340