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mRelief is helping ensure low-income kids get access to meals this summer

TechCrunch TechCrunch 20/06/2016 Megan Rose Dickey

During the school year, 22 million children in the U.S. receive free or reduced-price breakfast and lunches, but during the summer, four out five of those children can no longer count on a meal every day. Today, mRelief is launching a new web and text messaging tool for low-income families to easily figure out where and when they can receive free or discounted meals this summer for their children. For those without access to the internet, they can just text their zip code to 1-844-877-6111.

The offering, which is live in 42 states, provides information about where low-income people who do not qualify for food stamps can go for free or discounted meals. Every year, there is $11 billion in unclaimed food stamps because people who are eligible either didn’t know, or didn’t have access to apply to applications. Through mRelief, low-income people can easily figure out if they qualify for resources like food stamps, as well as other much-needed social services. If you find out that you’re not eligible for food stamps and you have children 18 years of age or younger, mRelief will now help you find the nearest summer meal site.

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If you don’t have children, mRelief will refer you to the nearest food pantry like the SF-Marin Food Bank, for example. This new service is thanks to the United States Department of Agriculture’s release of summer meal site data and an update to its developer tools.

“The USDA has really been an awesome agency on the government end that is becoming more transparent every day and making eligibility data more transparent to organizations like ours,” mRelief co-founder Rose Afriyie told me. “Since we’re built on Twilio’s platform, we’ve been able to move a lot more quickly. It’s things like that that make accessible tech more possible because we’re able to get those resources and pass those benefits to families who don’t have access to the internet.”

Since launching in September 2014, mRelief has helped 30,000 families determine which social services they qualify for. In the near future, mRelief wants to help people with figuring out the documents they need as well submitting those documents.

“We are trying to go deeper with families,” Afriyie said. “But I think the major thing that has been really alarming is the amount of money that families who are already struggling have to pay when they are trying to produce copies of their required documents.”

mRelief also wants to track how much cost is associated with obtaining and providing the paperwork necessary, and would ultimately like to make that cost zero.

Backed by Y Combinator, mRelief built a new product earlier this year called mRelief Builder, which is offered to government assistance programs throughout the country to automatically generate eligibility screens based on an organization’s pre-set criteria. Ultimately, mRelief wants to fulfill its vision of enabling anyone to access social services in a way that does not contribute to the stress that already comes along with living in poverty.

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