CHICAGO–-(ENEWSPF)—November 25, 2014. As food-centric holidays approach in Chicago and worldwide, many low-income citizens are unsure of where their next meal will come from, let alone how to begin to ask for government assistance. According to the most recent data, approximately 25 percent of people who are eligible for food stamps don’t participate in the program.
A Chicago-based startup aims to close that gap. This week, mRelief unveiled a feature of their web application that allows citizens to text the phone number (773) 377-8946 to check food stamp eligibility. Users can start the conversation by texting “Hello,” or their preferred greeting. mRelief, fiscally sponsored by Good City, is also rolling out SMS capability for RTA Ride Free, Medicaid and Medicare Cost Sharing within the next month.
“Through our new feature, mRelief makes access to food text messages away,” Project Manager and Co-founder Rose Afriyie said. Through the app, users can guage whether it is worth it to complete the entire online application process and spend time and money travelling in cold temperatures to offices for the mandatory in-person interview.
The project has been awarded $15,000 by the Smart Chicago Collaborative’s Civic Works Project, which is funded by the Knight Foundation. The platform which enables the text messaging is Twilio and is hosted by the Smart Chicago Collaborative. The founders are in a fundraising round to raise $50,000 by December 4th from Chicagoans and matching corporate donors using the platform Fundly here: bit.ly/mrelief-form
According to a 2012 Partnership for a Connected Illinois report, 64 percent of Illinois residents don’t have a smartphone device. The approach was developed to make access to government benefits accessible to non-internet users.
mRelief was developed by three local women developers this summer in response to Mayor Emanuel’s call for ideas to bring technology to social services in July. The startup officially launched last month at the Martin Luther King Community Service Center in partnership with Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Innovation Delivery Team.
mRelief’s questionnaire accounts for the requirements of several government benefits, including Medicaid, Food Stamps and SNAP Benefits.“mRelief is excited to use technology to solve an actual problem for underrepresented people,” Afriyie said.
Users can explore their eligibility for state and local government benefits; if they qualify they are directed to their immediate next step. If they don’t qualify, they’ll be directed to local community resources provided by Purple Binder’s database, an organization that matches people with community services with citizens’ health in mind.