A Robin Hood-inspired coalition of nonprofits and membership organizations, supported by the City of New York and New York State, is now launching a major campaign that can improve the lives of hundreds of thousands of poor New Yorkers struggling to make ends meet.

Called “Start By Asking,” this unprecedented campaign attempts to encourage as many as 800,000 low-income New Yorkers to enroll in critical government programs. These programs are powerful tools in Robin Hood’s enduring mission to help our neighbors in need gain financial stability and forge their own path to success.

This week you may have seen or heard the new Start By Asking mass media advertisements playing on local television, radio and posted on outdoor billboards across the city. This campaign has been made possible thanks to the generosity of Robin Hood’s Board of Directors as well as new supporters.

Currently, more than one billion dollars in federal funds from some of the most effective poverty-fighting programs go unclaimed by eligible New Yorkers who never enroll. Yet, any of the three programs - Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), SNAP aka food stamps, and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – can provide significant material relief, even lifting many out of poverty.

Why then are so many New Yorkers leaving on the table funds they desperately need? There are a number of formidable barriers: stigma, confusion, concern about the process, lack of awareness, and misinformation. To overcome these obstacles, Robin Hood and its many partners have taken a multi-pronged approach.

We’ve launched the mass media campaign referenced above. The campaign combats stigma and misinformation and encourages enrollment.

We are conducting highly targeted neighborhood-based outreach that combines data science and community organizing to meet eligible New Yorkers wherever they live, work, pray, study, and shop.

We are working closely with the City of New York and community-based organizations to expand service capacity, ensuring that anyone who wants help receives it.

Finally, we’re simplifying the enrollment process by expanding phone-based assistance, offering simpler screenings, and using new techniques to ensure people who start any application finish it.

The tools and techniques that we are using are neither complicated nor expensive, and they can easily be replicated in cities across the country. We hope to serve as a model for others. That’s why we’re creating a replicable playbook. We will provide other cities and nonprofits the tools and techniques that help low-income Americans to access the over $40 billion that goes unclaimed nationwide each year.

Ultimately, the campaign’s success relies on all New Yorkers to help raise awareness and enrollment. Later this month, we will issue a call for volunteers to help canvas with us. Until then, if you know someone who you think might be eligible, ask them if they are aware of these life-changing benefits. All they need to do is call 3-1-1 or visit startbyasking.orgEditor's note: Calling 3-1-1 will only work for this service in NYC.

Together, we can change the trajectories of hundreds of thousands of lives and ensure they are firmly on the path to financial self-sufficiency. If you have questions or suggestions, please let me know.


Reynold Levy, President, and Steven Lee, Start By Asking Campaign Director

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