When you hear “tax season,” what do you think of? Probably not anything super-positive. But what if “tax season” meant that you would be assisted by a team whose goal was to get you the best refund possible AND to explore ways to improve your quality of life? Sounds pretty good! Luckily for individuals and families in King and Snohomish counties making less than $64,000 a year, that’s exactly what the United Way Free Tax Prep Campaign does.
UWKC has been offering free tax preparation to the community since 2003, and their ultimate goal is to help put some of our hard-earned money back into our savings accounts come springtime. One of the best tools they use–one that was designed specifically to help lift low- and moderate-income houses out of poverty–is the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This credit primarily benefits individuals and couples within certain income brackets who have qualifying dependents, although others can access it as well. Last year in their 2016 campaign, UWKC filed 21,750 returns, earning their clients about $29.1 million in refunds. Of this, $9.4 million came from the EITC.
As if having someone else doing your taxes for free isn’t enough, UWKC goes a couple steps further. First of all, their service is accessible and low-barrier, which means that those in the most need can get help. UWKC has 27 sites in King County, from Shoreline to Federal Way, out to Bellevue and Renton. These sites have varying hours and days, from early morning to late evenings and even weekends. Many of their tax preparers are bilingual, so language isn’t a roadblock for those seeking help. And for those of us who are somewhat antisocial and were reared by technology (here’s looking at you, 20-somethings), UWKC also offers an online option that will allow you to e-file yourself for free.
So where does WithinReach fit into tax returns? A simple screening questionnaire at intake can quickly determine if families feel like they have enough to eat, if they can pay their utility bills, or if they have healthcare needs. These issues are much more up our alley, and that is where we can address creating healthy futures for our community.
From November through January, our in-person team helped train the tax campaign’s Volunteer Intake & Benefits Specialists, or VIBS. These volunteers greet clients, manage paperwork, make sure everyone has the appropriate materials, and screen clients for possible programs. They then make referrals to our Healthy Connections Online portal in order for our staff to reach out and assist. We trained the VIBS on identifying food, health, and transportation needs, and some of the local public benefits that can help. This way, they can effectively screen clients for eligibility (using a handy-dandy UWKC screening tool) and make referrals to us, coaching their clients through how they will be contacted and what WithinReach can do for them. VIBS can also give clients information on utility assistance, credit pulls, and financial counseling.
Once we receive the referral from the VIBS, it is the job of our Outreach & Enrollment Specialists to reach out to the client within two business days. Once we get in contact with the client, we talk with them to determine what they feel they need and screen them for eligibility for a host of programs. There are a huge number of community resources out there, such as play and learn groups, food banks, and prescription assistance, that people aren’t accessing simply because they don’t know they exist. Our ParentHelp123 website can also be used by clients if they want to explore resources on their own.
To bring assistance even closer to these clients, our team of AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialists will be attending four of the busier tax sites once a week through tax season– Lake City Neighborhood Service Center, Rainier Community Center, Burien Goodwill, and the Central Library. Instead of sending in a referral, our team can actually help clients on the spot.
The Tax Campaign aims to put money back into the pockets of low-income households across King county. This money can pay medical bills, help with groceries, keep the lights turned on, or be tucked away for later. This partnership between WithinReach and the UWKC tax sites aids with our own personal mission of making healthy futures attainable for families across Washington, by connecting them to the resources they need to be healthy and safe.
A “Day On” With the University District Food Bank
No one on the team—including myself—had conducted a food drive before, and we had no idea what to expect. I personally anticipated that folks would not be very interested in speaking to us or taking a list of suggested items to donate, but to our surprise we had a lot of interest! Folks were eager to take a flyer and we had many customers come out after their shopping trips with one to two full bags of items. We also noticed many parents with younger children participating in the donation and many of them donated large boxes of baby diapers. We even had a couple of folks mention to us that they were familiar with the University District Food Bank, and we had one gentleman comment that he felt very comfortable accessing the food bank as it was set up similarly to a grocery store. After we completed collecting donations, our team met back at the food bank to sort through the donations together. Our AmeriCorps team is typically at the food bank once a week educating clients on the SNAP (food stamps) program, so it was great for us to help with and experience the operational side of the food bank.
For only four hours of work, our team was able to collect around 450 lbs. of food! It was incredibly uplifting to spend half of the day with the AmeriCorps team and to experience conducting a food drive for the first time together. I am grateful to have a team who is passionate about serving the community, even on a day off!
How to choose a health insurance plan
Do you have a specific doctor’s office or clinic in mind?
What plans are currently accepted by that doctor or clinic?
While picking an insurance plan, one of the most important factors is being able to use that insurance for services at a clinic or doctor’s office with which you would like to work. If you have a specific health clinic or provider in mind, you’ll want to make sure they accept the insurance you choose. While shopping on Washington Healthplanfinder, the health insurance marketplace for Washington state, you can check which insurance plans are accepted by clicking “Add”, listed under “Health Care Provider” in the “My Search” box, located on the upper left-hand side of the QHP selection screen. You will be able to search by your provider’s name, hospital, or zip code. Be sure to call the office to confirm if the plan is accepted and get the most updated information!
Do you have any chronic health conditions or specialty care needs?
Are any of your typical medical needs listed under the excluded services?
Although all health insurance plans listed on the exchange are required to cover the Ten Essential Benefits, you’ll want to spend some time looking into the details of the plans you are considering to see what other services may or may not be covered. This is especially important if you have any specific medical needs or services you know you will be seeking. You’ll want to make sure the plan you pick is going to work the best for you and your health.
To see more details about the plan, click the link that says “More information on this plan,” located under the name of each plan option on the shopping page of Washington Healthplanfinder.
What is your monthly budget for health insurance?
Are there any tax credits and/or cost-sharing available to you?
There are many factors to consider when deciding which health insurance plan might be most affordable for you or your family. Every plan has a different amount for what you must pay from your own pocket before the insurance company will help you pay for your healthcare. There are five insurance payment terms to keep in mind:
- Premium—the monthly payment you make to ensure you have coverage.
- Deductible—the amount you will need to pay yourself for healthcare services before the insurance company starts to pay for healthcare costs.
- Copayment—An amount you pay for a covered healthcare service after the deductible has been met. This may vary depending on the service.
- Co-Insurance—the percentage of the bill you are responsible for before the deductible is reached. For example, a 20% co-insurance means that you pay 20% of the bill and the insurance company pays 80%.
- Out-of-Pocket Max—the maximum amount you can pay in a year. After this is reached, all covered services will be paid for by the insurance company
At first glance, a low monthly premium might seem like the most affordable option, but these plans tend to come with a higher deductible. That means that if you have an unplanned medical need or accident, you may end up paying more out of your own pocket since the deductible needs to be met before the insurance company will help you pay.
You might also qualify for help paying for your insurance through government subsidies. If your income is under 400% of the federal poverty level (or $8,100/month for a family of four), you may qualify for tax credits that help pay for the monthly premium, or cost-sharing reduction to help reduce your out of pocket expenses!
On Washington Healthplanfinder, you are able to customize your search using the categories on the left-hand side and narrow your selections to plans within the range of what you may be comfortable paying. You can also see more detailed information about the cost
What is the size of the network for this plan?
Do I have to stay “in-network?
Will I need a referral to see a specialist?
Another aspect to keep in mind while picking a health insurance plan is the type of network available to you. The plan network includes physicians, hospitals, and other healthcare providers that have agreed to provide medical services at pre-negotiated prices and rates. There are three different categories:
- Health Maintenance Organization (HMO)—This type of plan limits coverage to care from doctors who work for the insurance organization. Services by providers outside of the network will most likely not be covered. Your doctor, or primary care physician as they are usually called, will help to coordinate your care and provide referrals to see specialists.
- Preferred Provider Organization (PPO)—In this type of plan, you will save more money seeking services from providers who are part of the plan’s network. You can see doctors, hospitals, and/or specialist outside of the network without a referral, but they may end up costing you more.
- Exclusive Provider Organization (EPO)—This plan will require you to see providers within the network to have your services covered. Any services by out-of-network providers will not be covered.
Each of these types of plans have their pros and cons, so to help you make a decision, you’ll want to ask yourself how flexible you would like your health insurance plan to be.
Even with a list of questions to help you find the best plan, we here at WithinReach realize that it can still be overwhelming to sift through all the information. That is why we are here to help! By calling our Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588, we can walk you through the whole application process and help you narrow down your plan options.
Podcast: Child Development Screening Part Two
Part two of our child development series is here! Emma and Stephanie talk about social and emotional development and why it’s important to pay attention to this area early in your child’s life.
Listen to part one for background before this episode!
Fighting Holiday Hunger
Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
‘Tis the season where everything seems to revolve around food. If you feel like you don’t have enough food this season, WithinReach is here to help! Over the phone on our Family Health Hotline, we can help connect you to plenty of different food resources to put food on the table this holiday season. We do screening for basic food eligibility, basic food application assistance, as well help locate food banks and farmer’s markets in your area.
Our AmeriCorps in-person outreach team recently started going to the state of the art, newly located University District food bank. While we are still in the process of building trust and relationships with the patrons of the food bank, it has been really rewarding to get to know the people there and understand the specific needs of the diverse University District community. I recently met a client there that was going to a food bank for the very first time, and didn’t know anything about the process. The front desk staff at the food bank sent them back to me for information about enrolling in the basic food program. The client was certain that they would be over-income, but after a quick screening I determined they were likely eligible and assisted them as they filled out an application in about ten minutes. The client left the food bank with shopping bags full of groceries, and a bulk of new information on food resources to keep their family happy, and healthy. Many people are worried that signing up for Basic Food may take too long, or that it isn’t worth the hassle. The truth is the benefits far outweigh the ten minutes it takes to complete an application, and opens the door to access a number of food assistance options.
Let’s review some of the food options we have in Washington State!
Basic Food: The basic food program, which you may also know as SNAP, food stamps, or EBT, is a great resource for people looking to supplement their food supply. The basic food program can be used to purchase food items, and is widely accepted by many different grocery stores like Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as well as many small drug stores and local grocers with culturally competent food items. Most places that accept EBT benefits will have a sign outside!
Already on Basic Food and have a low benefit amount?: The good news is that your benefits roll over from month to month, and the holidays are a great time to save up some of your food benefits to use them for special occasions, like a big holiday dinner for you and your family/friends. A low benefit amount of $16 might seem like it doesn’t help much on a month to month basis, but when you’re planning ahead and saving your benefits, that $16 can easily multiply and make all the difference.
Fresh bucks: Another benefit of the basic food program is Fresh Bucks! Fresh Bucks is a program through the King County farmer’s markets that will match your basic food dollars (for every $2 you are willing to spend they will match it up to $10). This is a great way to get fresh, in-season vegetables this holiday season. Fun fact: broccoli, brussels sprouts, potatoes, squash, and cauliflower are all in currently in season and are a great addition to any holiday meal.
Food banks: Forget what you know about food banks: they have so much more than just canned green beans and spaghetti noodles. Food banks have a lot of the winter delicacies you’re looking for this holiday season. For example, the University District food bank has fresh flowers, greeting cards, egg-nog, and a wide selection of breads, meats, and vegetables. Most food banks will just require that you bring your photo ID along with proof of address from the last 30 days (this can be waived if you are homeless), so they can make sure you’re using the food bank meant for your neighborhood.
Why apply now?: Utilizing these programs that are available to you are a great way to save some extra money during the winter months. As the temperature goes down, heating bills and other expenses are on the rise. The more food you get on the table the more money you are able to save for a rainy day!
If you are interested in learning more about food resources and programs, or feel you are ready to complete an application – give us a call today on our Family Health Hotline at 1 (800) 322-2588. Our friendly staff is available from 8:00am-5:00pm Monday – Thursday, and Fridays from 8:00am-5:00pm. If you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, go to ParentHelp123.org
Podcast: Child Development Screening Part One
What, exactly, is child development screening (other than a free service that we offer to Washington families)? Stephanie is here to teach us all about it! This is part one, so stay tuned for the next episode when Stephanie and Emma dive into social and emotional development.
Podcast: Open Enrollment is here!
We’re talking about Open Enrollment for health insurance on this episode of the WithinReach Podcast. There’s a lot of information packed into this episode; here are some of the sites we referenced so you can learn more:
And as always, you can call our Family Health Hotline at 1(800) 322-2588 for assistance.
Teen parents connect in GRADS
The ASQ is one of many tools that the GRADS program uses to build confidence in teen parents; it works to empower them and make them the experts on their babies’ development. From a homeschooled teen in a small town to a confident Vancouver mother, Celeste tapped into GRADS and NFP to build her skill set and support network and to offer her son a healthy start. These students are a testament to the value of stable, positive investment in young parents.
We asked parents for feedback about Summer Meals–here’s what they had to say
Written by Annya Pintak, Community Partnership Associate, and Vinnie Tran, AmeriCorps VISTA/Summer Meals Promotions Specialist
Even though winter is almost upon us, WithinReach is already starting to plan for next year’s Summer Meals Program, a free meal program for kids and teens during the summer months. WithinReach serves as a point of contact for Washington families looking for local Summer Meals sites, and this past summer our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team partnered with the United Way of King County to further promote the Summer Meals Program.
In addition to promoting the program, our team took the opportunity to receive community feedback. We surveyed over 50 participants in Auburn, Tukwila and SeaTac sites, and conducted a focus group to further investigate on how to improve the Summer Meals and Basic Food (food stamp) program. In late August, WithinReach held its first focus group with a cohort of Auburn parents who we met at a Summer Meals site.
In the one-hour session that took place at the Auburn Library, the participants reviewed and provided feedback on current Summer Meals materials. Participants suggested concrete ways to improve the design and messaging of three Summer Meals flyers to better appeal to parents, especially Spanish-speaking individuals. They additionally stressed the importance of paper flyers and reaffirmed that schools were the best avenue to promote Summer Meals. A major concern parents indicated was the lack in consistent messaging and branding from different sponsors. Many of the parents indicated that this contributed to a common confusion among participants when visiting different Summer Meal sites in King County.
Participants of the focus group discussion were also asked to review various Basic Food (food stamps) materials. While we had a major focus on the Summer Meals program, we wanted to take the opportunity to gather community feedback on other food assistance programs as well. Many of the participants indicated materials that included visuals of cooked meals instead of plain vegetables were more appealing. Similar to the feedback on the Summer Meals materials, participants mentioned a concern with the inconsistent terms that various materials used to describe the Basic Food program; many materials use “Basic Food,” “food stamps,” and “EBT” interchangeably without clarifying that these terms all mean the same thing.
This focus group provided us with the opportunity to hear feedback from the community and to understand how we can better improve the promotion of the Summer Meals and Basic Food program. Hearing directly from the community is crucial to our work and we are looking forward to integrating their feedback into our future work and materials.
Stand up for breastfeeding moms
As a physician who provides obstetrical and newborn care, I have some control over the messages that my new mothers hear while in the hospital. Fortunately, I also have the ability to write orders which limit formula use for medical reasons only. Nurses can call me, and as a lactation consultant I can also stage appropriate and baby-friendly interventions.
However, many dietitians, community-based healthcare staff, and breast-feeding advocates do not routinely provide in-hospital care. I can only imagine how difficult it is to know that your patients and clients, whom you have worked so hard to educate and prepare for motherhood, may be exposed to contradictory messages about breastfeeding at such a vulnerable time.
As breast-feeding advocates, we hear messages about the potential consequences of just a single bottle of formula, but we have little ability to stop that single feeding at the times when that influence is most needed. However, I do think that there are many important points to remember with regard to breast-feeding promotion in the outpatient setting.
First, in the age of social media, it is important to remember that our clients and patients often turn to the Internet for guidance. Therefore, I would strongly recommend that as breast-feeding advocates we identify hospitals, physicians, midwives, internet groups, and web sites which consistently provide (and demand) baby friendly neonatal care, and make those comments in those places where our patients will see them. For example, does a medical clinic or hospital have a Facebook page? Make comments EVERY TIME you hear of a patient who had a good breastfeeding experience. We can help our patients select providers and hospitals which align with their goals, and OUR goals. Get the word out where our clients are looking.
In addition, as outside-hospital providers, I encourage you to put pressure on in-hospital staff to provide the quality of care that we expect. Perhaps it may be a phone call to a physician or midwife, or the director of the birth center at a hospital, to inquire as to why a patient, or several patients, may have received formula. The specific answer may not be available, or may be limited by HIPPA compliance, but it does demonstrate a vested interest in the well-being of our most vulnerable. Perhaps it may be an annual visit to a local medical clinic to explain the outsides services available to physicians that YOU provide. Consider also giving physicians, midwives, nurses, and in-hospital staff the appreciation that they deserve in very public ways. Never underestimate the value of personal contact. Market breastfeeding. Be deliberate and methodical.
Finally, I would encourage outside providers to discuss with their clients and patients the consequences of registering on various pregnancy and baby related websites and on in-store gift registries. The formula industry, as we all know, aggressively markets to our audience. We need to prepare our mothers for an inundation of formula-related material and samples. We need to tell them that it is OKAY to throw those samples and coupons away. They do not need to maintain a supply “just in case.” We need them to know that formula companies are unfairly playing to their insecurities at a time when they are most vulnerable. We need them to know that WE believe they can nurse their babies, and that they WILL make enough milk. We need to restore their confidence in themselves.
Dr. Jody Cousins is a family medicine and obstetric care physician at Fidalgo Medical Associates in Anacortes, WA. She is a member of the Skagit Breastfeeding Coalition and the recipient of the 2015 Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington MaryAnn O’Hara, MD Physician Leadership Award.
A response to KUOW’s “Why Seattle Moms Still Pump In Bathrooms”
By Chris Gray, Member- Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington
Finding appropriate accommodations for women to pump at work that are suitable for both mothers and employers continues to be a challenge. Though there are no state laws to support breastfeeding in the work place, Federal Law entitles hourly employees to reasonable break times and to a private, non-bathroom space to pump. And it is important to recognize that the Department of Labor encourages employers to provide breaks to all nursing mothers regardless of their status under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). Yet even with these laws in place, there is still a lot of room for employer interpretation and too often mothers find themselves with inadequate or inconvenient options. As we continue our efforts to normalize breastfeeding in our communities, how do we help employers–especially those with limited resources and space–normalize breastfeeding in their work place?
KUOW released an article on October 12th titled, “Why Seattle Moms Still Pump In Bathrooms” that brings to light some of the issues mothers face when trying to pump at work. Thank you to the companies and employers who have found a solution that supports their breastfeeding mothers’ need to pump at work. Thank you, KUOW, for prioritizing the creation of a new lactation room and supporting a mother’s desire to continue to breastfeed while at work. It is not impossible to find an appropriate space for pumping that works for both mother and employer; with a little creativity and determination, all employers can create private and secure spaces for their mothers to pump.
Here are a few resources that can help employers create quality spaces or improve the existing lactation spaces to better support their employees.
- Office on Women’s Health “Supporting Nursing Moms at Work: Employer Solutions”: Offers cost effective tips and solutions for any industry setting. It offers creative solutions to meet the time and space restrictions that some businesses face.
- The Business Case for Breastfeeding: Demonstrates how creating a nursing-friendly environment can actually support your business!
- Pregnancy Guidance: A resource page with fact-sheets for small businesses, Q&A from the EEOC, and best practices for employers.
- Employer Best Practices for Workers with Caregiving Responsibilities: Provides employers with information on how to create efficient workplaces that support employees with caregiving responsibilities.
- Local Chamber of Commerce in WA State: Federal and local breastfeeding resources have been shared with Chambers of Commerce to increase awareness of existing resources to support breastfeeding mothers in the workplace.
- Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington: Please join the BCW at our quarterly meetings as we focus on various issues in and around Washington, including normalizing breastfeeding in the workplace.
Back to (pre-)school partnerships
Over the last year and a half, the Bothell Family Co-op Preschool has partnered with Help Me Grow to expand use of the Ages and Stages Questionnaire (ASQ). The expansion includes working with preschool teachers and families to allow ASQ results to be part of the parent-teacher conversation, and for the results to inform and improve practices in the classroom. Since the trial run was so successful, we are excited to expand this service to other affiliated co-op preschools within the Shoreline Community College’s Parenting Education Program this fall.
Co-op Preschools Provide Optimal Environment for Parent Engagement
The cooperative preschool model brings parents and skilled educators together to provide a rich learning experience for children. Parents assist in their child’s preschool once a week and attend meetings on child development, kindergarten readiness, emotion coaching and more. Parents are active partners in their children’s learning and development. Educators are poised to help reframe developmental screening—once seen as a strictly diagnostic tool—as an educational strategy for optimizing child development that is suitable for all children.
The preschool teachers have unique insight into co-op families’ lives, and are trusted sources of information. To support this valuable dynamic, WithinReach offers its ASQ to preschool teachers to bring to their students’ families. The ASQ can spark important conversation with parents about their child’s development. Teachers are trained to present the tool and empower parents to observe their child’s skills. In addition to parent education, the results can inform how teachers plan their curriculum.
Help Me Grow
WithinReach’s Help Me Grow team equips teachers to present the ASQ and utilize the results. Teachers direct families to WithinReach’s free online ASQ, where parents complete and submit it. A WithinReach Child Development Specialist calls each parent to discuss their results, along with any community resources to foster child growth, e.g. Play & Learn groups or additional evaluation. With parent permission, WithinReach staff sends a copy of the results to the preschool teacher. WithinReach’s unique role involves lending parents a fresh ear, triaging families to community resources, and informing teachers of each child’s developmental status so that everyone can work together to create a positive learning environment.
We are excited about this partnership, unique population, and opportunity to expand access to developmental screening in a new and creative way.
For more information about the Help Me Grow program, call our WithinReach Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or visit Parenthelp123.org