New study! Accessing SNAP benefits in Alaska

In partnership with Alaska Legal Services Corporation (ALSC), the A2J Lab has launched a randomized control trial to evaluate community advocates’ services in the context of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP – aka Food Stamps) benefits arm of their programs.

Low-income and elderly residents in Alaska are in need of access to these benefits. Food insecurity and hunger are especially threatening to Alaska’s rural regions. Currently, there are 1.3 ALSC lawyers for every 10,000 Alaskans in poverty; and, the majority of the state’s 2,364 active attorneys are concentrated in the third judicial district, leaving much of its rural population without representation.

In response to this need, ALSC launched its community advocates program. The program will increase the pool of non-attorney volunteers, such as paralegals, tribal legal advocates, and professional school and law school students who reside in various communities throughout the state. Through training materials and supportive services these advocates will be able to provide valuable services in communities where there are currently no or very few attorneys.

To study the effectiveness of this program, ALSC will process approximately 300 study-eligible individuals, half of whom will be assigned a lawyer, the other half assigned a trained community advocate to provide a range of support services. Community advocates will be located throughout the state and began providing assistance to clients last year. The A2J Lab will compare the control group results and establish training programs to enhance resources already in place.

If the project proves effective, the benefits across a variety of civil justice needs in Alaska will be enormous. Key stakeholders will be enabled to implement the best solutions for their regions. Residents will gain access to the federal benefits they deserve.

In the time of COVID-19, ensuring that everyone who qualifies for SNAP benefits gets them is crucial. Because the study happens without additional in-person contact, we’re able to continue the research to learn more about how this system works at a time when people need the services more than ever.

The results will echo beyond the state. This project is one of several that the A2J Lab has in development to evaluate non-lawyer services. With the demand for civil legal aid far outstripping supply across the country, understanding if and when non-lawyer assistance might help, could improve results for clients who otherwise would not be able to access any support at all.

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