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City opens six benefits access centers

The city today opened six BenePhilly Centers to assist low-income Philadelphians who are eligible for benefits but are not receiving them.

Increasing benefits access is a major goal of Shared Prosperity, an anti-poverty plan that Mayor Nutter unveiled last year. He tasked Eva Gladstein, the executive director of the Mayor's Office of Community Empowerment and Opportunity, or "CEO," with developing and implementing the plan.

The centers, Gladstein said, will help people "get benefits that can help alleviate some of the worst affects of poverty."

Funded by the federal Community Services Block Grant, the centers and related outreach efforts will together cost $1.3 million per year, according to Gladstein. Each will have two benefits counselors that will help residents signed up for programs like the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps), Medicaid and LIHEAP assistance for heating bills.

"This is money that is sitting on the table that we collectively do not have access to or are not seeing the benefit from," Gladstein said at a ribbon-cutting ceremony today.

Many people do not sign up for benefits, she said, because they have language barriers, are unaware they are eligible or have difficulty with the often complicated application processes.

Residents can call 844-848-4376 to set up an appointment or talk with a benefits counselor over the phone.

Gladstein said the city will open eight more referral centers that will offer a lower level of service. The first six are housed in existing community organizations:

- Catholic Social Services' Casa Del Carmen, 4400 M. Reese St.

- People's Emergency Center, 3939 Warren St. (in the Families First building)

- Philadelphia FIGHT, 1233 Locust St.

- Project HOME, 1515 Fairmount Ave.

- United Emergency Services Fund, 1617 JFK Boulevard, Suite 840

- United Communities Southeast Philadelphia, 2029 S. 8th St. (in the Houston Center)

Nutter was scheduled to attend the ribbon-cutting but instead went to Harrisburg, where he is lobbying the state Senate to approve a cigarette tax that could fund city schools.