Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Each year, up to $41 million go unclaimed by homeless Georgians with mental illness - DHR has solution

Annually, up to $41 million in social security entitlements go unclaimed by homeless Georgians with mental illness. With support from a new three–year federal grant entitled "SOAR," the Georgia Department of Human Resources (DHR) will help homeless people with mental illness significantly enhance their access to social security benefits by helping them complete complicated applications. Nationally, Georgia ranks 49TH with respect to social security approval rates; its denial rate is 74%. For the homeless with mental illness, rates are believed to be even worst. Reasons behind Georgia’s performance are largely due to individuals having difficulty completing applications or simply not knowing they are eligible. Approximately 45% of Georgia’s homeless population is believed to have mental illness.

"Almost half of the homeless population is missing out on benefits for which they are eligible," said Gwen Skinner, Director for the Division of Mental Health, Developmental Disabilities and Addictive Diseases. "With new statewide training and coordination among DHR, outreach workers and local social security offices, we will be able to dramatically improve the lives of thousands and alter Georgia’s homeless culture."

Under the new program, DHR has trained more than 500 homeless outreach workers statewide on techniques to expedite access to social security benefits. The new processing time will now take approximately 90 days as opposed to 12 months. SOAR trainees personally assist consumers in completing applications and help them retrieve medical records from health care facilities, which historically has been a significant barrier.

SOAR which stands for SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access and Recovery is considered a national best-practice model designed to enhance access to supplemental security income and social security disability insurance for people who are homeless. States that have successfully implemented SOAR have been able to save millions of dollars in recovered Medicaid and general assistance funds.

It is estimated that $4 billion is spent annually on homelessness by local and state governments.
For more information on SOAR, contact the DHR Office of Mental Health at 404.657.2134.

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