Spotlight on the Wisconsin Elder Benefit Specialist Program
The Elder Benefit Specialist (EBS) Program is a legal assistance program unique to Wisconsin. The program is funded primarily through funds from the Older Americans Act, the State of Wisconsin, and the State Health Insurance Assistance Program. The focus of the program is to provide locally-based counseling to adults age 60 and older. In 2013 EBSs had over 67,000 cases in Wisconsin serving clients in substantive areas including Social Security, Medicaid, Medicare, health insurance, and consumer protection, and housing issues. EBS services are provided free-of-charge to people age 60 and over.
The EBS program first began in 1977 as a pilot program in a handful of counties but expanded to serve the entire state by 1988. Because the EBS program was intended to serve clients 60 and older, the Disability Benefit Specialist (DBS) Program was created to serve people aged 18-59. The DBS program began in 2000 and was expanded to serve the entire state by 2013. There is at least one EBS in each of the 72 counties and 11 Native American tribes in the state of Wisconsin.
Because the state legislatures also observed and supported the need for the EBS program, a law was passed that codified the program in 1987. This law — Wisconsin Statute 46.81 — states, “Benefit specialists shall offer information, advice, and assistance to older individuals related to individual eligibility for, and problems with, public benefits and services and to health care financing, insurance, housing, and other financial and consumer concerns.”
The EBS program was designed by the Wisconsin Department of Human Services. EBSs are employed by local aging units in every county of the state. The local office where the EBS works may vary by county — it may be at the aging and disability resource center (ADRC), the county, a tribe, or through a contract with a non-profit organization. In Sawyer County, the EBS program is part of the ADRC, which is located in the Sawyer County Courthouse.
Because EBSs assist their clients with legal issues, they work closely with program attorneys on cases and receive ongoing training from the program attorneys bi-monthly to stay abreast of changes in the law and to learn new skills. When hired, EBSs also undergo an intensive, in-person training with their program attorneys.
The policies of the EBS program have priority areas. First and foremost, EBSs focus on assisting with the basic needs of their clients which may be: income, health care, long-term care, housing, food, and working to reduce debt or financial exploitation. The EBS may do this with a client by providing accurate information on benefits or helping to identify what benefits a client may be eligible for, suggesting alternative actions to secure benefits (including appealing a denial), advocating on a client’s behalf, or even through a referral to a private attorney.
The EBS program is free of charge. Any client over the age of 60 may contact the EBS in their county for assistance.
Published with permission from the Legal Services Team at the Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources’ Elder Law & Advocacy Center.
For more information, please contact the ADRC of the North: