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Call-Back Program Supports Benefit Retention for Vulnerable Clients

While thousands of Sonoma County residents facing food insecurity depend on the stability of CalFresh benefits, many are unaware that the continuation of their benefits hinges upon their on-time completion of the semiannual report (SAR 7), or face barriers hindering the completion of this report. To mitigate this concern and prevent clients from unknowingly losing access to benefits, Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Santa Rosa (CCDSR) provides calls to all those who have not yet submitted their SAR 7, utilizing a team of dedicated Bilingual Service Navigators and the information provided by the Human Services Department of Sonoma County. During these calls, Service Navigators not only assist with the application, but engage with the clients to identify and address whatever barriers may have been preventing them from completing this documentation, and to empower the clients to take the necessary next steps. One particular client had been difficult to reach, but through the persistence of the Service Navigator, he finally answered and informed her that he was completely unaware of the SAR 7 requirement. As she took the time to hear his story, she learned that he was a single father who had recently returned to work following a long period of unemployment caused by the pandemic. Additionally, the client struggled with a speech impairment that made it difficult for him to communicate effectively over the phone.

The Service Navigator listened to his concerns, namely his unease at sharing his personal information despite his son being the one receiving CalFresh benefits. While explaining the reason for needing his information as his son’s legal garden, as well as the requirements around income verification to determine eligibility, the Service Navigator not only assuaged his concerns around the CalFresh benefits system, but she began to establish trust with the client while communicating a genuine desire to support him and his son. As the client continued to share and express additional concerns and barriers, the Service Navigator provided a solutions-oriented approach that both validated the concerns and provided a path forward. Being a newly employed single father, he was fearful of missing work to go to the Human Services Department and potentially losing wages that he could not afford to lose. The Service Navigator suggested submitting the application through at a time that was convenient for him, a resource that he was not yet aware of. Although his speech impairment initially threatened the ability for the two of them to have a clear conversation, the Service Navigator modified her approach to the conversation to account for his individual needs, rephrasing questions into a yes/no format and spending about two hours working with him. This not only enabled her to get the information she needed from the client in a comprehensible way, but this approach affirmed the dignity of the client by demonstrating that supporting his unique needs and challenges was of much greater importance than taking a more rigid, formulaic approach to the process. Having established this rapport, when the client received a letter from the Human Services Department a few days later stating that they needed more information from him, he knew he could call her back and trust her to support him in the process. Together, they submitted his additional documentation through, and his CalFresh benefits were never discontinued.

Not only did the client not lose any benefits, but through the support of the CCDSR Service Navigator, he did not have to miss work and lose wages during the process either. The client’s son never had to worry for one moment that his father would be unable to provide for him or that his needs would go unmet. Furthermore, the Service Navigator enrolled the household in CCDSR’s system and has taken a holistic approach to the client’s and son’s needs, offering support with his Medi-Cal application and providing information about the agency’s food and nutrition services as well. The Service Navigator will now be able to reach out to support with his annual recertification when the time comes, and the client has full confidence that if additional concerns arise, the agency will be there to support and empower him each step of the way.

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