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How To Be A Good Advocate For Yourself

Accessing the public benefits you are eligible for is your right. There are certain things you can do to ensure that you receive the correct amount of benefits you are eligible for without any complications, delays, or errors. By following these tips you can be a good advocate for yourself, meaning that you are protecting yourself and your right to the public assistance you need.

  • Keep track of all your conversations with the public agency administering your benefits (such as the Illinois Department of Human Services). To do this, get a notebook to use only for keeping track of your case.
    • Write down the date and time of each of your calls or visits to an agency’s office. You should do this even if you didn’t talk to anybody, and note the phone number you called.
    • If you do talk to someone, always ask for his or her name, and make sure to write it down so you don’t forget. If a person refuses to tell you his or her name, write that down, too.
    • Be very detailed. Write down everything that happened when you talked to someone on the phone or when you went to the office. A page of your notebook might look like the box to the right.
  • Prepare all necessary documents ahead of time. Make sure to read thoroughly any letters you receive from the public benefits agency to be sure of all the documents you will need to submit.
    • For example, you may need a document that you might not have readily on hand, such as your birth certificate. You can receive help in obtaining your birth certificate. If you were born in Illinois, start online. The Illinois Department of Public Health can also help you find a county office if you call 1-217-782-6553 (TTY 1-800- 547-0466).
    • Give yourself plenty of time to get these documents, and make sure to never give your agency worker an original copy. Make copies ahead of time, or ask your agency worker to make copies for you. Make a checklist so you don’t forget anything, and bring everything in a folder with you to your appointment. If you need help in collecting the necessary documents, ask your agency worker for help.
  • Keep copies of everything that you give to the agency. File copies in one place and keep track of dates in your notebook.
  • Keep copies of everything you receive from the agency. Get a folder or box to put all your papers in and keep it with your notebook. This way you have everything in one designated and safe place. Make sure to keep:
    • All forms and notices you get from your local office.
    • All notices and letters you get in the mail.
    • The envelope in which a notice or letter comes in the mail. You may need to show when an agency actually mailed a notice, and you can prove this by showing the postmark date on the envelope. Staple the envelope to the back of the notice it came in to keep it from getting lost.
    • Ask your agency worker for a copy of every document you sign at the agency. Ask for a receipt when you turn in a document, and keep the receipt.
  • Plan for long wait times or unexpected delays. Sometimes agencies schedule appointments and end up not having enough agency workers to see all at their scheduled time. This means you should arrange your work or school schedule to allow for plenty of time to visit an agency’s office, and make sure your child care or transportation arrangement is flexible if your appointment is pushed back. If possible, try to avoid rescheduling your appointments or else your case will be further delayed, and there is no guarantee that your appointment will not be pushed back again. Arriving at the office right when it opens or as early as possible may help you get interviewed that day.
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