Methodology for Benefits Plus Online
Social service professionals throughout New York City have relied on the Community Service Society’s Benefits Plus since it first debuted in 1990 (formerly the PBRC Manual). Each version of this manual has been expanded to address the changes in the public benefit system, as well as advocates’ requests so they can more effectively and efficiently assist their clients in accessing needed benefits. This 4th edition is Community Service Society’s boldest expansion to date: providing more practical content to the text, as well as taking full advantage of the technology of the Internet to dramatically improve accessibility to its users. This online resource manual is published by the Benefits Plus Learning Center of the Community Service Society of New York.
Learning Center staff have added significantly to the text based on our experience with professionals over the past 25 years by including information on questions, as well as the challenges clients frequently face when attempting to access benefits. We integrated case examples to clarify complex concepts, advocacy tips to assist the advocate in navigating the government bureaucracy, notes explaining special circumstances, warnings, government contacts, additional resources, and more.
Benefits Plus’ major asset is that professionals seeking information on public benefits and housing programs are able to go to one resource rather than spending hours searching the Internet, government websites and myriad publications for the answers to their clients’ needs.
The first step in developing this 4th edition was crafting a uniform template design. This design is both visually appealing and user friendly, incorporating a consistent chapter outline, more white space, icons, and designing a page that allows the reader to easily find the information s/he is seeking.
Whereas the starting point of the 4th edition was our 3rd edition we did not stop there. Authors integrated a wide variety of resources, including federal, state and local statutes, program regulations, agency publications, agency directives, briefs and newsletters, agency websites, as well as interviews with government agency personnel to ensure accuracy and the most up-to-date information. Resource materials are listed in the individual chapters under the heading of Source Materials.
A team of authors was assembled to write the chapters, this included BPLC staff, in addition to attorneys and other experts in the field. All authors are listed in the individual chapter under the heading of Source Materials.
Many chapters have been vetted by either an expert in the field or personnel at the government agency that administers the benefits. Expert editors are listed in the individual chapters, under the heading of Source Materials.
In addition, each chapter was edited internally by the Benefits Plus’ editor to ensure text was logical, clear, complete, and consistent.
Benefit Plus Online is updated regularly to capture the changes that occur in a benefit or housing program. We appreciate any feedback from our subscribers when you are aware of changes in the program we have not captured.
As of June 2012 Benefits Plus is copyrighted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
While this edition is not the first time Benefits Plus is available on the Internet, we have taken advantage of improvements in technology since the online version first became available in 2001. This includes:
- Creating a “smart” search engine: The previous online version did not include a search engine. This online version incorporates a key word search engine that directs readers to sections of Benefits Plus relevant to the issue they are searching.
- Improving website navigation: Helping the user to find what they are looking for quickly. Using color and bold letters to highlight the outline of materials available.
- Creating Hyperlinks: The online version directly links to the web site of other agencies and organizations listed in the chapters.
- Creating an e-commerce page: This allows potential subscribers to purchase the online version of Benefits Plus via a secured credit card gateway.
Diane Wenzler, Director of the Benefits Plus Learning Center