National non-profit organization connects students with needed public benefits

By Diane VanDyke
Montgomery County Community College is collaborating with Benefits Data Trust and College Board to help students receive resources for housing, food, child care and other essential needs.

Montgomery County Community College is collaborating with Benefits Data Trust and College Board to help students receive resources for housing, food, child care and other essential needs.

With the hardships many students are facing this year, Montgomery County Community College (MCCC) is taking an innovative approach to help students receive the resources that can help them with housing, food, child care and other essential needs by collaborating with Benefits Data Trust (BDT).

Headquartered in Philadelphia, BDT connects people in need to critical public benefits to help them afford food, healthcare, housing, and more. BDT provides enrollment assistance to individuals in six states, and policy assistance to states nationwide. Over the past year, BDT has delivered more than $50 million in previously untapped benefit dollars to households in the greater Philadelphia region.

MCCC is the first college in the country to partner with the national nonprofit organization to provide a student benefits pilot program.

“For students, getting the assistance they need often depends on knowing where to find it, and in many cases, that’s not always clear,” said Dr. Keima Sheriff, MCCC Assistant Dean of Student Programs. “With this pilot program, students will be able to call BDT to receive live assistance from a trained specialist who will connect and/or apply them to the services over the phone.”

Regardless of an individual’s level of education, multiple barriers make it challenging to access public benefits: many people do not know they are eligible and applications can be complicated. Through MCCC’s partnership with BDT, students will have access to a dedicated hotline and personalized, one-on-one phone assistance to determine eligibility and submit applications for multiple benefits, including food (SNAP) and medical (Medicaid) assistance and childcare (CCIS) subsidy.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, 38% of college students experienced food insecurity,” said Trooper Sanders, CEO of BDT. “We’re hopeful that by helping connect them to essential benefits they will be able to meet their basic needs, focus their attention on their studies, and secure a pathway to economic security and opportunity.”

College Board is supporting the referral line as part of a broader two-year partnership with Benefits Data Trust. “We are thrilled to be working with Benefits Data Trust and Montgomery County Community College to connect students to basic resources they need to persist and thrive in college during this challenging moment,” said Steve Bumbaugh, Senior Vice President of College & Career Access at the College Board. “BDT has an impressive track record in streamlining access to benefits, and we are excited to help bring their expertise to higher education.”

“The College is excited to be working with such great partners on this pilot,” said Dr. David Kowalski, Associate Vice President of Institutional Effectiveness and Strategic Innovation. “We know strong partnerships are essential to creating the scaled solutions needed to advance student success.”

The student benefits pilot program is one of several wellness initiatives MCCC has implemented as part of its overall student wellness resources. The resources include a tiered system of holistic care that is rooted in providing essential student supports and sustained through core institutional services and strong community partners.

Earlier this year, MCCC was the first community college to collaborate with the online therapy service, Talkspace, which connects students to dedicated licensed therapists via a secure mobile app and web platform. MCCC students can access Talkspace anytime, anywhere at no additional cost.