Site unites search for benefits

The National Council on the Aging Inc. is expected to announce a Web-based service today — BenefitsCheckUp — that older Americans can use to find federal and state assistance programs to which they are entitled.

Millions of people have not been receiving benefits to which they may be entitled simply because they don't know about them. Information has been difficult and time-consuming to track down. BenefitsCheckUp is designed to collect the information into a single, searchable database.

A beta test of the online site has been available at test.benefitscheckup.org.

To use BenefitsCheckUp, individuals enter information about their own financial situations — or that of a client, parent or other relative — into a multi-page online questionnaire.

The program uses that information to automatically conduct a search of the database and generate a response that explains benefits programs for which the individual may be eligible. It also provides information about ways to apply for the benefits.

NCOA has been working for more than a year to pull BenefitsCheckUp together. The main challenge was constructing the database, which collates information from a huge range of federal and state databases. Once NCOA had built the database to show to organizations, it was able to get funding from those organizations that will enable the council to provide the service at no charge to users.

The U.S. National Institute on Aging and Lucent Technologies provided the financial support to help develop the technology behind BenefitsCheckUp. Other contributions came from New York Life Insurance Co., the Merck Company Foundation and the Archstone Foundation. The AOL Time Warner Foundation is expected to announce BenefitsCheckUp alongside NCOA.

Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.

About the Author

Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.

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