NYC DOE Office of Community Schools and Single Stop

Public Benefits Access


Thousands of New York City school children face attendance and learning barriers related to hunger, homelessness, and lack of access to healthcare and immigration support. Meanwhile, many of their families go without poverty-fighting public benefits for which they are eligible, because of complex application requirements, language barriers, fear, and pride.

PPL partnered with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools and Single Stop, a national benefits-enrollment-navigator, to explore how families could access public benefits enrollment in a trusted environment: their neighborhood school. Our project team conducted discovery research with school and benefits-enrollment staff and ran quick proof-of-concept efforts in several New York City public schools with significant numbers of students dealing with poverty.


In this proof of concept, we found that school staff are motivated and able to help families with public benefits enrollment. With a minimum of new tools and training, staff were able to conduct family outreach and then screen, refer, and enroll eligible parents and guardians in public benefits. The test period was intentionally short, but still resulted in positive initial findings: CBO caseworkers held a total of six enrollment sessions in schools, and during the trial period, school staff were able to generate family interest and refer 17% of eligible families to caseworkers for appointments.

Overall, we identified three preconditions for success for any future benefits access efforts in schools: get the timing right, empower champions at multiple levels, and allow for school-specific variation. We are currently developing a Phase 2 initiative which will further develop the program model and an associated suite of tools. Phase 2 will field-test the intervention in a variety of settings and result in a program ready for roll-out to all Community Schools across New York City – and perhaps farther afield.

Project Team

Sarah Lidgus headshot
Sarah Lidgus
Andrew Eickmann headshot
Andrew Eickmann