NYC DOE Office of Community Schools

Public Benefits Access


Thousands of New York City school children face attendance and learning barriers related to hunger, housing instability, 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.

Schools are often safe and trusted environments for families. School staff can build on that trust and help students succeed by actively connecting their families to public benefits – such as supportive services for housing, food, cash, immigration, health, and employment.

In response to this opportunity, PPL partnered with the New York City Department of Education’s Office of Community Schools to develop Benefits Access, a strategy and toolkit that equips school staff to consistently refer families to benefits. The long-term goal of Benefits Access is to increase both staff referrals to and family enrollments in benefits and services.

In Phase 1 of the project, our team partnered with Single Stop to run a three-month proof-of-concept with five public schools. Following the success of this initial test, we expanded the pilot to 21 public schools across the city in Phase 2. Over seven months, the team conducted research, co-design, and field-testing with nearly 200 people, including community school directors, principals, guidance counselors, parent coordinators, teachers, school staff, and families.


In Phase 1, we found that school staff are motivated and able to help families with public benefits enrollment. We identified three preconditions for success for future benefits access efforts in schools: get the timing right, empower champions at multiple levels, and allow for school-specific variation.

In Phase 2, we co-created and pilot-tested a strategy and toolkit that embodied these factors for success. The strategy is a three-phase approach that empowers staff to prepare, reach out, and connect families to benefits, and the toolkit includes ten flexible tools to support school staff as they go through the three phases (including a detailed How-To Guide for school teams). We also developed an implementation guide for the Office of Community Schools, which outlines how OCS can support schools in implementing Benefits Access.

Benefits Access is now available for all NYC public schools to use, and can be downloaded using this Google Drive link.

Project Team

Sarah Lidgus headshot
Sarah Lidgus
Andrew Eickmann headshot
Andrew Eickmann
Just Park Lee headshot
Judy Park Lee
Amanda Finuccio headshot
Amanda Finuccio
Natalie Sims headshot
Natalie Sims
Anke Stohlmann headshot
Anke Stohlmann