All individuals and families have basic needs including shelter, food, clothing, and health care. However, those with limited financial resources sometimes require the assistance of private and public programs and agencies in order to meet these needs. Such assistance may take the form of a housing subsidy, cash assistance, food stamps, fuel assistance, health care insurance, mental health treatment, and the like. Yet, individuals and families in need may not know of the existence of benefit and service programs for which they may be eligible. Additionally, information on their availability, eligibility criteria, and application/acceptance procedures can be difficult to obtain, will change periodically, and are spread about in different places. For example, the application process to receive food stamps or to obtain Section 8 rental assistance is complicated and requires meeting specific eligibility criteria. Those who might consider applying would find it useful to obtain the application form as well as information that describe the application process, how and where to apply, and whether or not they are likely to meet the eligibility criteria. The primary target audience of the web site is individuals and families in the lower 30% of household income. Service providers are also an important audience. In an effort to help families become more economically self-sufficient, we also provide content on ways to build financial and human capital assets.
The intent of a web site, such as MassResources.org, is to help make the often-complex human service system more coherent and transparent, provide clear information on substantive issues and benefit programs and direct people to relevant and available sources of aid. The existence of such a site promotes greater awareness of issues, benefits, and programs that are important to low-income individuals and families. By using the web site, consumers of services can be better able to act for themselves and be less dependent on the limited number of people in the community with expertise on community benefits and programs. Also, such a web site can help service providers and case managers be more productive and effective in helping their clients obtain needed resources.
The difficulty that many persons with low income have in being able to access the Internet is a topic of growing concern as it further widens the gap between rich and poor. The difference in access to and use of the Internet between persons with high and low incomes has been referred to as the “digital divide.” While not the issue it once was, the digital divide cannot be resolved solely through the provision of Internet access. What also is required is content that addresses the fundamental needs of persons with low income, thereby helping to motivate use of the Internet. CRI aims to be a part of solution to the digital divide by being a provider of content relevant to the needs of persons with low income. Perhaps surprisingly, consumers outnumber service providers by about 2:1 in visits to our web sites.
Our intent -- to make the current process of finding out about and obtaining community resources a much easier and coherent one for consumers and service providers alike -- is succeeding in Massachusetts.
Feedback we have received to date from service providers and consumers who have used the site has been uniformly very positive. Click here to read some of these remarks. In general, they are finding it very helpful and facilitative of their work to have information on a myriad of services and programs stored in one location, updated on a regular basis, and carefully explained.
As we had hoped, the web site is serving as a central repository of information on resources relevant to the needs of Massachusetts’ low-income residents. Presently, the web site gets about 12,000 visits per weekdday and over 275,000 visits per month.