New staff hired to serve growing Latino population, reach out beyond metro Atlanta

In its efforts to better serve the needs of the Latino community, the Latin American Association has nearly doubled the staff in its Family Services Department.

In recent months, Family Services has hired four new employees. Three experienced bilingual staff are dedicated to helping families get access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, as well as insurance benefits such as Medicaid and PeachCare for Kids. In addition, a new navigator has allowed the LAA to play a leading role in providing information to, and enrolling, Latinos in the new health care exchanges.

With the new hires, the LAA is poised to more efficiently serve its current client base and reach out to those who are unable to visit service centers on Buford Highway and Norcross.

“We have seen a rise in the number of Hispanic families applying for food stamps due to unemployment and underemployment,” said Family Services Managing Director Cynthia Román. “We can now start to keep up with the demand and sign up more families for food stamps and Medicaid.”

Family Services assists more individuals than any other department at the LAA. It provides assistance with urgent needs such as food and clothes. The department also helps clients with cases concerning domestic violence, health, employment and separation of families due to deportation. Other services include rent assistance, as well as parenting and anger management classes.

Collaborations with Atlanta organizations such as Atlanta Legal Aid, Grady Health System and Families First supplement services the LAA doesn’t provide directly, creating a web of support for our families. Support groups for cancer, lupus and diabetes meet periodically in the LAA building. In the mornings, while clients wait in the lime-green waiting room, they are able to listen to educational talks given by outside partners.

“We look to provide our clients with tools and education so they can achieve self sufficiency and integrate into the community,” said Roman. “We follow up with them for up to 90 days, or more if necessary, to make sure their needs are being met.”

About 70 percent of the clients who have received help remain self-sufficient afterwards, said Román.

The LAA is now making a big push to get Latino families who are eligible, but may not know it, to apply for SNAP and temporary assistance for needy families (TANF). In Georgia, more than half of eligible Latinos do not receive SNAP assistance due to a lack of English-language skills, social isolation and unfamiliarity with social support systems.

Thanks to the new SNAP grant, the LAA can reach out into central and north Georgia.

“We want to tell Latinos about the programs they are eligible for,” said Diana Howell, outreach coordinator. “There’s no reason you shouldn’t sleep at night when you can get assistance.”