Access to What Is Needed: Frances in Benefits Access

Access to What Is Needed: Frances in Benefits Access


Every day, Frances, Fortune’s Entitlement Specialist, connects participants at Fortune to the vital benefits needed after release from incarceration. Entitlement Specialists work with participants to help them gain access to public benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Medicaid, cash assistance and rental assistance, as well as birth certificate records and IDs. 

Frances is able to place herself in the shoes of those looking for assistance. 11 years ago, she came to Fortune as a participant. After completing the Employment Services workshop, she interned at the front desk before being hired full-time. She worked as a receptionist for eight years before moving to Benefits Access. 

Frances knows the difficulties of being released. Many returning home need assistance while going through various programs and looking for jobs. 

“As soon as they get out, they can’t get a job right away,” said Frances. “They need funds, they need food, they need cash. Not that much, but who wants to be walking around knowing you don’t have a bar of soap?”

The program also offers participants advice on child support, eviction, accessing criminal records and more. 

These resources are vitally important, as studies show that people with a history of justice involvement struggle with things like food insecurity at twice the rate of the general population. A 2013 study estimated that 91% of recently released people were food insecure. 

Connecting those recently released to benefits like SNAP, which provides food assistance that allows individuals to supplement the cost of their diet with nutritious foods, gives peace of mind as individuals continue on their journey to housing, employment and success.  

After the initial intake of needs, Frances submits applications for needed benefits on behalf of participants. She keeps track of any changes in their applications over time. As soon as the official notice comes back, whether they’ve received benefits or not, she gets in touch with them.  

While the majority of Fortune participants successfully get the benefits they’re looking for, the process is confusing. Sometimes people receive benefits and don’t even know it. Entitlement Specialists like Frances are able to see updates on applications and stay in contact with participants throughout the entire process. 

One of the biggest barriers to accessing benefits is the lack of proper identification after release. Frances estimates that about half of the participants she sees don’t have these kinds of identification. Many times, people return home with only their prison ID and release papers, which are often not acceptable forms of identification for conducting the basic business of getting on with one’s life like securing housing or opening a bank account.  

“That’s the most difficult challenge,” she said. “They’ve been in there so long that their IDs are no longer any good, or they lost it, or they left it with a family member and those family members aren’t around anymore.”

Entitlement Specialists make a note in the application that a participant has just been released from incarceration and that they’re in the process of getting identification. If someone was born in New York City, Frances can help them get a birth certificate. If not, she assists in setting up appointments for Social Security cards and New York State IDs. 

For many justice-involved individuals reentering the community, the road to productivity is filled with many obstacles. The transition out of prison can be difficult, but Fortune’s Entitlement Specialists aid in a smoother journey back into the community. By offering assistance every day, participants can feel supported in their own journeys home. 

To read more about how our Benefits Access program assists with much-needed benefits, click here. 

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