As technology improves and its presence becomes more prevalent in our daily lives, nearly everything–from grocery shopping to watching tv–seems to be available online through the Internet. The same is true for government programs. Backed by a national initiative to make government programs like LIHEAP more accessible to applicants, many programs created an online application for individuals and families to complete. The benefit of taking this “e-Government” initiative to local programs is that it enables people to very quickly and readily apply for programs that can improve their quality of life and keep them safe in times of economic or health crises.
The challenge, as Nancy Fredericks, Administrator for the Pasco County Library System, and her team quickly learned, is that not all individuals and households are equipped with the technology and connection required to take advantage of e-Government within their own households.
“Libraries all over the state started to become the primary place that individuals apply for government assistance,” Nancy said. “And our librarians were becoming involved in the process as we try to help as many people as possible.”
However, as libraries in Florida continued to get inundated with individuals who had questions about the program, needed help applying, or ran into technical issues with the government websites, Nancy knew that something needed to change. Each library was attempting to create better ways to serve patrons on their own. Instead of encouraging each branch to develop a unique solution, Nancy led an effort and applied for a federal grant through theLibrary Services and Technology Act that offers funds to help support library initiatives. The organization was awarded the grant for its program idea: to create a one-stop website that every library in Florida can use to help patrons access, learn about, and apply for government programs.
“We were already becoming part of the process,” said Nancy, who had previous experience supporting libraries as the e-Government initiative expanded. “So we thought to ourselves: ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have a single portal where an applicant would have all the information and applications they needed in a single place?”
With great planning and execution, Nancy and the team at the Pasco County Library System launched GetHelpFlorida.org, an online website that provides an easy-to-access portal to all of the government programs to which Floridians can apply. As described on the website, GetHelpFlorida.org is “here to help you find valuable government information easily. There are thousands of e-government federal, state and county programs & services, organized by category. As a statewide portal, this website is intended to provide government and non-profit resources for those in need.”
Today, the site is available at libraries across Florida. The Pasco County Library System is actively promoting the website, encouraging other agencies, organizations and public entities to use the portal to make access to government programs easier and more efficient for families and individuals, regardless of where they perform their search. GetHelpFlorida.org is available through any browser as long as an Internet connection is available, meaning users can also access the platform from home if they are able.
Through the work of effective leaders and organizations like Nancy and the Pasco County Library System, programs such as LIHEAP are becoming easier for individuals to learn about and apply for. Despite the increased efficiency provided by GetHelpFlorida.org, LIHEAP, in particular, has experienced major federal cuts over the past eight years, falling from $5.1B in 2008 to $3.4Bin 2015. In 2013, LIHEAP served more than 108,000 Florida households.
For more information, visit GetHelpFlorida.org.