As a single mom of three living in Bedford Stuyvesant, Shadia Barneys says it can be difficult to make ends meet.
"It is hard, especially with the rising rate of housing, because I don't have any subsidies or anything like," she says.
Barneys does receive some benefits like SNAP, but when a colleague told her about an app called Benefit Kitchen, she figured she didn't have anything to lose.
Developed in Brooklyn, the app allows users to see what, if any, benefits, programs and tax credits they may qualify for from an extensive list.
"There were a few things that I did not know that I qualified for. Like the HEAP where you can get energy assistance,” Barneys says.
That alone saved her 60 bucks off her usual hundred dollar monthly energy bill.
It's not just individuals who are using the app. Non-profit organizations like St. Johns Bread and Life are also using it as a resource, helping their clients walk through the process.
They have a multimedia room where clients can do it themselves or walk through it with a volunteer, and they're also using it in their mobile soup kitchen.
"So we do this Benefit Kitchen, print out this budget and folks can come here and they can do their food stamp application here,” says Anthony Butler, executive director at St. John's Bread and Life. “We can help them enroll in medical insurance. We can help them with public assistance. We can connect them up with WIC and things like that.
"People are not getting access to those benefits and the reality is they don't know how,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams says.
That is why Melanie Lavelle says she created the app, to streamline a complex process that could require visits to some 15 different offices. Since she says a majority of low income Americans get their internet access through a phone, an app to connect them to public benefits just made sense.
"For us it's about advocacy. You should be able to choose what you want to apply for, know how much you are going to get and go from there,” Lavelle says.
"I don't want to leave any resources out that I could be benefiting from, especially to help feed my children. You know, I'm always trying to look for something that will help us a little more,” Barneys says.
Benefit Kitchen is available online or on iOS or Android devices.