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Some Great News For Basic Food Recipients. . .. Finally!

The past year has been a roller coaster for Basic Food (food stamps) beneficiaries in Washington.  Actually, maybe it has been not so much a roller coaster as a downward spiral.
During the recession, people who utilize Basic Food were given an increase in their monthly benefit under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA).  This increase gave low-income families more money to buy food during the difficult economic times, and in-turn also helped stimulate local economies.  But as of November 1, 2013, this increased benefit was cut back.  The average benefit level dropped to less than $1.40 per person per meal.  Downward spiral number one.

Only a couple of months after that, Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill.  As shared in an earlier blog post, the Farm Bill included another cut to the federal funding stream for Basic Food, called SNAP.  This cut came from raising the amount for ‘Heat and Eat’ eligibility determination from $1 in LIHEAP assistance to $20. This was estimated to result in 232,000 Washington households experiencing another reduction in benefits of up to $90 per month. Downward spiral number two.
And then, the legislature did not include any additional dollars in their supplemental budget for the State Food Assistance Program, which provides Basic Food benefits to immigrant families who have been here less than five years and are therefore not eligible for benefits funded by the federal SNAP program.  This means that these families are still only receiving 75 percent of the benefits provided to other Basic Food beneficiaries. Downward spiral number three.

With all of these reduced benefits, you would think there wasn’t a problem with hunger anymore!  But food insecurity remains a very real issue in our state and in our country.  One in four children in Washington are struggling with hunger and almost 15% of Washington households are considered food insecure.  This is not the time to go on a downward spiral that takes more food off the tables of these vulnerable children and families.

But yesterday, we finally took a step back in the right direction that fixes one of these downward spirals.  Governor Jay Inslee announced that Washington will take steps to preserve the SNAP benefits that were cut in the 2014 Farm Bill (as mentioned above).  As explained in Governor Inslee’s press release:

A household’s SNAP benefits are calculated by factoring in a household’s eligibility for the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). The new Farm Bill made changes to the “Heat and Eat” option, which now requires states to provide a household $20 in LIHEAP assistance to maximize SNAP benefits. The prior law required that Washington only provide $1. Under the modified program, the Department of Social and Health Services will work with the Department of Commerce to provide $20 of LIHEAP assistance to eligible households, ensuring low-income families will remain eligible for up to $90 a month of SNAP benefits.

This will preserve benefits for approximately 200,000 households in Washington and will prevent the loss of nearly $70 million in federal SNAP benefits.   Washington is joining seven other states who have taken similar steps.  Preserving this benefit means fewer families will have to face the impossible choices of putting food on the table or buying medicine or paying rent.
Thank you, Governor Inslee, for helping protect vulnerable families in Washington!

Tags: Basic Food   Farm Bill   food stamps   Heat and Eat   SNAP   

A Fresh Perspective on the Food Stamps Challenge

Written by AmeriCorps Member, Christina Leal
I am aware that many people do not have the time, money or opportunity to put the same amount of care and thought into what they eat as I do. Perusing colorful fruits and vegetables at the grocery store and farmer’s market on Sundays is something that I enjoy very much, almost ritualistically.  As an AmeriCorps member, I get assistance from the Basic Food Program, but I also rely on the continued financial support of my father. I realize that most people don’t have such a safety cushion and have to rely on their salary and the Basic Food Program to keep their stomachs full.
I was curious to see exactly how my grocery bill compared with that of the average basic food recipient. If I were relying exclusively on my EBT card to go grocery shopping, what would my shopping cart look like? My prediction, of course, was that it would include fewer fresh fruits and vegetables, but how fewer? And what type?
My current weekly grocery bill is around $62.00. This includes everything I need to make a garlicky-pasta dish, turkey and cheese sandwiches every day, and a delicious fruit salad to last throughout the week. While this isn’t an exorbitant amount of food, it’s enough to give me the protein, nutrients, and carbohydrates necessary to feel satisfied. Almost everything I buy is certified as organic and/or locally sourced. I have the luxury of diversity in my options as well as the peace of mind that most of my food isn’t peppered with inimical additives.
The average Basic Food benefit amount comes out to $54.65 per week. But this is the amount that a family receives. So, if we consider that the average family size in Seattle is 2.87 persons, the average budget per adult and child on the Basic Food program is roughly $19 a week. I wanted to get a realistic idea of what food choices I would make if I had to live on this budget. In trying to devise what my grocery cart would look like, I quickly realized I had no other choice but to go to a different grocery store and skip the farmer’s market. Then, after checking prices and plugging in numbers, I realized that I couldn’t even stay in my preferred produce aisles. In order to eat 3 nutritious square meals per day, I could only afford to buy two organic items, canned soup and a frozen burrito. Most of my meals would consist of black bean tacos with a side of sweet potato chips.
While I was surprised that I could afford a daily serving of fruits and vegetables, I do realize that this illustration is partially flawed. This is because if I were actually living on a $19 per week food budget, there’s a strong chance that I would also be working at an additional job to improve my economic situation. There’s no doubt that this would significantly decrease the time that I could allot to prepare food. It took me two trips to the grocery store and at least three times the amount time it would normally take me just to select food with this budget. Rather than strolling through thinking “Ooh, what can I cook with this?” I had to constantly ask myself, “How can I feel full with this amount of money?”  I also found myself having to restock items like wheat bread, spinach and trail mix. This completely changed the shopping experience from being a fun exploration to stressful and a little embarrassing.
The more that I think about this challenge, the more I feel that calling myself “privileged” is an understatement. This brings to mind the frustration of a friend of mine from the Central District who recently told me that it’s nearly impossible for people of color in her neighborhood to buy “food that doesn’t cause cancer.” Not only is organic food just not available in marginalized neighborhoods, it’s typically out of the realm of affordability. I cherish using my grocery dollars not only to buy foods that are going to support my health and well-being in the best way possible, but also as a vote to support agricultural practices that are environmentally and socially ethical. The truth that most people are denied this opportunity is unjust and is a symptom of the poorly-directed investments in our food production system.

Tags: Food Stamps Challenge   

Join the Fight to End Hunger

Tomorrow marks the last day of United Way’s Hunger Action week. I applaud United Way of King County for using their social capital to increase awareness about hunger in our community.

Over the past few months, I’ve been building my knowledge about hunger in our community and  was surprised to learn that public opinion shows  that most people think hunger is more of an international problem than a local problem. Yet, one in four kids struggles with hunger in our state. This means they do not consistently have nutritionally adequate and accessible food.  When I think about how my kids, Barrett and Claire behave when they are hungry , this number breaks my heart.

I’m not surprised when I hear that kids who are food insecure are less likely to excel in school, will have more behavior problems and are more prone to chronic health conditions. Many of us are fortunate to have enough healthy and nutritious food for our families, but for many families in Washington that is not the reality and they struggle daily to put enough food on the table.

As the debate has raged at the federal level around food stamps, I hope people understand how serious any cuts to food stamps are for families already struggling to get by. The average person on food stamps receives $6.30 per day to feed themselves. This isn’t much when you think about how much fresh produce and lean proteins cost.  We must do more to support families not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it is the best thing to do for our economy.

According to a report by the Center for American Progress and Brandeis University, “hunger costs our nation at least $167.5 billion due to the combination of lost economic productivity per year, more expensive public education because of the rising costs of poor education outcomes, avoidable health care costs, and the cost of charity to keep families fed.”

The good news is that we can solve the hunger problem together. Start today by participating in United Way of King County Hunger Action Week; they have easy ways for you to get involved to insure every family in Washington has enough nutritious food.

Tags: Hunger Action Week   United Way King County   

A Mother’s Pride

On Monday a group of WithinReach board members, staff and their kids attended Have a Heart for Kid’s Day sponsored by the Children’s Alliance. It was a fabulous day. We had a chance to visit with legislators, participate in a rally and attend the Breakfast After the Bell hearing in the House Education Committee.

WithinReach has followed the Breakfast After the Bell issue with a lot of interest this session. Our friends at United Way of King County have done a great job raising this issue in response to Washington Appleseed’s report  on school breakfast participation in Washington State. Ranked 39th, Washington lags behind most states in the nation in reaching free and reduced price eligible students with breakfast.

I had intended to testify in support of Breakfast After the Bell, and as I was preparing my remarks, I asked my 6 year old Claire if she wanted to testify with me. “Will I be on TV?” she asked, and  I explained that TVW covers the hearing. Then she asked, “Will there be a microphone?”, and when I confirmed there would also be a microphone she was on board. Over the weekend, she diligently practiced her testimony.

Come time for her testimony, she was awesome. Besides the chest pounding pride I had for her, I was struck by the way the legislators eyes lit up when she spoke. For so many legislators, they are here because of the kids–their kids, grand kids, nieces and nephews. As cliche as it is, for many (if not all) this is the main driver of why they ran. Claire was not only a welcome break from adults talking about why School Breakfast is a good idea, but a reminder that when we talk about the number of kids who are hungry–its critical to remember they are sweet kids just like Claire. Here’s Claire’s testimony. I love that little girl!

Tags: Breakfast Before the Bell   Have a heart for kids day   

Food Stamps Offer Help to Families Who Have Lost Unemployment Benefits

Written by AmeriCorps members Travis Bassett and Lisa Andersen

For the 1.3 million people across the county who have lost their unemployment income, this is a challenging and unnerving time.  At WithinReach we have heard from people across Washington who have lost their unemployment benefits and are looking for resources to help them fill the gap.

We recently assisted a client who faced precisely that difficult situation: the client’s unemployment benefits had been cut, which meant that he had lost his only source of income, despite having moved from state to state in hopes of finding a job over the past several years. His story was like that of many families in Washington – his home was in foreclosure, and he decided to apply for food stamps because he felt like he could no longer make ends meet. He said that he had simply “run out of things to sell.” We were able to help him navigate the application for food stamps within 10 minutes, and he was eligible to receive food benefits just 24 hours after an interview with DSHS.

Recent news stories suggest an eventual reinstatement of unemployment benefits, but in the meantime, far too many families are struggling to make ends meet.  Many are struggling to put food on the table, and the money that Basic Food, (food stamps) provides families for groceries can make a huge difference. The families and individuals we help to apply for Basic Food often receive their benefits in less than two days.

We have also discovered that people who are eligible for Basic Food are very often eligible for free health insurance.  Washington Apple Health (the new name for Medicaid in WA) has been expanded to cover more people, meaning that many of those who were not eligible for free health insurance a few months ago are now eligible for free coverage.  Clients are usually thrilled to learn that they are eligible for free health insurance that includes dental and preventative care.

At WithinReach we specialize in helping people navigate the application processes for both food stamps and health insurance.  To get started you can visit ParentHelp123 or call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 for assistance. If you are unsure of what programs you may be eligible for just give us a call and our friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you figure it out.

Tags: Basic Food   Employment benefits cut   food stamps   Washington Apple Health   

Broadening Our View on Food Security For Washington Families

Recently our friends at Northwest Harvest hosted a couple of partners (WithinReach, King County Public Health) and Congressman Adam Smith for a visit at the Cherry Street Food Bank. As I walked up the street to meet the team, I was once again reminded of the people who are struggling to make ends meet and the critical role that both food banks and food stamps play in addressing  an array of food resources which can help families both in the short- and long-term be “food secure.”  The line stretched around the block and Shelley Rotondo, Executive Director at NW Harvest, commented that while this was the middle of the month, they often see long lines similar to the lines they used to see only at the end of the month when people ran out of money.

A couple of things stood out for me during the visit with Congressman Smith.  First, he led off with saying that he believes in government programs and knows they can make a difference. I was really struck by this statement because so much of the rhetoric we hear out of Congress is about the need to shrink government. It was refreshing to hear that he had a fundamental belief in the role of government plays in providing programs that serve the most vulnerable in our communities.   Yet, I am also a realist and know that does not necessarily mean funding these programs in heated budget debates is a sure thing. I think it is bold, these days, to profess your support of government because it sometimes feels like it is easier or maybe even popular to criticize government programs.  To hear an elected official reflect the realities of the day-to-day struggles of his constituents was inspiring.

While we were at the food bank, a client named Wayne came up to us and said “Thank you for providing this support. I’m doing my best to get back on my feet, but I couldn’t do it without this support. I’m trying really hard to be disciplined. Thank you.”  We all stood there sort of stunned, his gratitude was amazing. It once again reminds me of the real people behind the statistics and numbers about the food insecure; the people who are trying to get back on their feet, support their families, and become self sufficient. Programs like SNAP and local food banks are important supports to making this a reality.

Northwest Harvest is the only non-profit food bank distributor operating statewide in Washington with a network of more than 350 food banks, meal programs and high-need schools. They provide more than 1.7 million meals every month to this network. Even with this expansive reach, NW Harvest efforts across the state represent only 1/24 of what government spends on emergency food. There is literally no plausible way that we can feed all the hungry families in our state without the help of government.  I often talk about the “the new normal,” the basic premise being that we need to think creatively and collaboratively as to how to how to address our communities most complex issues and how all government, nonprofits and private/corporate philanthropy must work together to advance the economic vitality of our state.

Our food access work is no different, we need to work hand-in -hand with our partners in government, nonprofit and private organizations to make significant change. We want to build on the work Northwest Harvest has done and that is why our advocacy message to Congressman Smith and the rest of the Washington Delegation is focused on the preservation of SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps). The House Republican leaders proposed a bill that cuts $40 billion dollars over the next 10 years from SNAP, a cut that would be devastating to families across the state who rely on food stamps to augment what they receive at food banks in order to feed their families. If you are interested in more information or want to know how you can take action to protect SNAP, check out these resources:

•    Anti Hunger and Nutrition Coalition
•    Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
•    Food Research and Action Council

Tags: Food banks   food insecurity   food stamps   Northwest Harvest   SNAP   

Program in Chewelah Feeds Kids’ Tummies and Minds this Summer

A Summer Program at Gess Elementary School in Chewelah, Washington (about an hour Northwest of Spokane) is providing opportunities for students to improve their literacy skills, get their hands dirty, and eat a nutritious meal. The program, funded by a grant from School’s Out Washington, is themed around the school’s garden. Students spend time working in the garden each day, learning about the science of gardening, and participating in reading, writing, and other literacy activities based on the theme. Research shows that two-thirds of the achievement gap in reading for 9th graders is due to missed opportunities to practice literacy during the Summer months. This program is a great example of how a Summer Meal program can be expanded to provide intentional learning opportunities for students who need it most.

For more information about Summer Learning contact Virginia Eader at School’s Out Washington veader@schoolsoutwashington.org.

Garden

 

Tags: achievement gap   garden   schools out Washington   summer meals   

My First Visit to a Food Bank

Sixteen year old guest blogger Sara from Woodinville, WA is back! Look for her weekly blog posts that will examine a current event from a teen perspective and connect to resources on WashingTeenHelp.org.

I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to go to the Cherry Street Food Bank in downtown Seattle and volunteer with the WithinReach Bridge to Basics Program which is a group of AmeriCorps service members (one of them is pictured here) who provide benefits information and application assistance at sites throughout King and Snohomish Counties. We were there to help sign people up for food stamps and promote other food and health resources to the people waiting in the food line.

Watching the people there made me realize there are several different faces and ages to homelessness and hunger.  Everyone thinks of the homeless guy standing on the corner holding up a sign.  But this was different.  There were a variety of people young and old. Personally, seeing the younger kids was difficult. I’ve been fortunate to grow up in a financially stable middle class family in the suburbs.   I never wondered where my next meals was coming from.  I never realized how fortunate I was, and how much I took my house with a fully stocked fridge for granted until going to Cherry Street.

The whole experience itself was quite emotionally heavy but it definitely opened my eyes to what is really out there when one gets out of the suburbs and sees the reality of homelessness and hunger in our communities.

If you are interested in learning more about Bridge to Basics or volunteering with the program, please contact Erin Milliren at erinm@withinreachwa.org.

Summer Meals in Action

The Summer Meals program helps reduce summer hunger by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens. Local organizations run summer meals sites at schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps.  Des Moines Area Food Bank is a local organization in their fourth year of providing Summer Meals to kids and teens in their community. In their first year, they operated two sites and since then they have grown their program to thirty sites in Des Moines, SeaTac, Burien and Federal Way! They will serve an average of 4,000 meals a week this summer to hungry kids and teens. In an effort to serve as many meals as possible, they started their 5-day a week program the day after school was out and will continue through Labor Day. As of July 20th they have already served 26,000 meals, making a big impact to reduce hunger in their community.
Each morning a group of dedicated volunteers and staff meet at the Des Moines Food Bank and make thousands of lunches and snacks to serve around the city each day.  Midway Park, one of their original summer meals sites, serves kids who attend Madrona Elementary in the Highline School District, a school that has a 94% free and reduced lunch population. On an average day, they serve about 40- 50 kids at this site. A typical lunch includes coolers filled with milk, oranges & apples, carrot sticks, turkey & cheese pitas and tuna wraps. To meet federal requirements for nutritious meals, each child is required to choose three of the four options available to them, but they are encouraged to take one of each.
In addition to nutritious food, the Des Moines Area Food Bank also offers educational activities at each of their Summer Meals sites. They are working with eight United Way of King County Americorp VISTA’s who are stationed at the sites to lead fun and educational activities with the kids. In addition to VISTA’s, local volunteers share their skills and knowledge. At Midway park, Joan Marie is a local volunteer who leads ukulele lessons. With funding from the Rotary Club and a discount from a local store, they were able to purchase a number of brightly colored ukuleles for the kids to play. At another one of their Summer Meals sites at Redondo Beach, they have a partnership with the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) of Highline Community College where kids can learn about the environment of the Puget Sound and local marine life.
Visit the Des Moines Area Food Bank website to find a list of all the sites they are serving meals or visit ParentHelp123 to search for summer meals sites around the state. Thanks to all the dedicated staff and volunteers who are working with Des Moines Area Food Bank and other similar sites to bring free meals to kids!

 

Tags: Des Moines   Des Moines Food Bank   food bank   summer meals   United Way   

Lessons Learned From a Day at WithinReach

At the beginning of the month, Gig Harbor 8th Grader Claudia Reutercrona visited WithinReach for her school’s job shadow day. Here are some of her reflections from that day.

WithinReach Reflections
By Claudia Reutercrona

Personally, I think of people as balls of play dough. They come into this world fresh, warm, and perfectly spherical. But as you play with it and take it out into the world it gets shaped and formed into something completely unique and different than any other piece of play dough out there. Then that play dough hardens, after leaving it out for a while, into its shape. Then that hardened piece of play dough gets to go out into the huge ball of play dough that is the world and find where it can make an imprint on the world in a way that no other piece can. But to make play dough you have to have all of the ingredients and so many people in the world don’t have access to everything they need, whether it is the salt, water, flour, food coloring, or the hot stove to cook it on.

I am an eighth grade student from Gig Harbor, Washington. On Thursday, June 6, my school had a job shadow day. Almost every student chose a place or a job that they wanted to go to for their job shadow and mine was WithinReach. During my day at WithinReach I was able to learn about what they do, why they do it, and how they make it happen and it was amazing. WithinReach helps people to access those things that they need. They help to inform people of the programs they qualify for and they help them apply for them too. They are trying to make sure that everyone has a fair chance at the things that are necessary to survive.

I started out my day with Kay Knox, the deputy director of WithinReach. I got to talk to Kay all about what the organization does, their goals, and all sorts of things at WithinReach! Kay got me all set up to head out on my day at WithinReach. While at WithinReach I got to listen in on the Family Health Hotline phone lines with Jose and Thalia and hear about quite a few different situations. I got to watch as Jose and Thalia talked to the people who needed help and fill out information to see what they were eligible for. It was so cool to see how everything worked and how they got people the information that they needed. I also got to talk to Jose and Thalia about their recommendations for how I could get a job like theirs, their schooling, and what it is like to work at WithinReach.

Next, I went to a Cultural Competency meeting. At first I was very confused (to say the least). But as the meeting went on I learned more about what cultural competency even is and what it has to do with WithinReach. I learned about the Farm Bill, how different races compare on tests such as the MSP, and many other things. It was a lot of information that I actually found very interesting and useful! After that I was able to meet with Tracy and Anna who work in community engagement. I learned all about how WithinReach raises awareness of their organization through things like Facebook, Twitter, advertisements, flyers, and other types of social media. I also got to learn about how they do their fundraising. I got to have so much fun with Tracy and Anna and taking pictures around the office!

After meeting up with Kay again for lunch and a wonderful conversation, I went to FamilyWorks in Wallingford to do outreach with Donna Quach, an Americorps volunteer. With Donna we talked to the people at a food bank about getting involved with programs such as food stamps,  Apple Health for Kids, and getting health insurance. Donna told me all about how she is able to help the public, what it is like to be an AmeriCorps volunteer, and how she got to where she is now. Even though the food bank wasn’t very busy, I was still able to learn so much from Donna! Everything I was able to experience at WithinReach was so amazing and so enjoyable. I loved every minute of being there and I can’t wait to come back another time to get to experience the rest of WithinReach that I wasn’t able to experience today.

Everyone I met while at WithinReach was so nice and welcoming and I felt at home right away! Everyone was so helpful to me and was more than happy to answer any and all of my questions! WithinReach is so wonderful and I couldn’t think of a better place for a job shadow! When I grow up, all I want to do is help people. WithinReach was a wonderful place for me to learn about and experience doing just that. I can see myself working at WithinReach or another non-profit organization like this at some point in the future as I work towards finding the perfect career where I can fulfill my dreams.

Summer Meals: Free Meals for Kids all Summer

Q and A with St. Leo Food Connection Director, Kevin Glackin-Coley

Q: What is the Summer Meals program?

A: For the parents of the 467,279 Washington schoolchildren who receive free or reduced price school meals, summer can be a time of struggle as they stretch available dollars to cover the gap left by school meals. The Summer Meals Program helps by providing free nutritious meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Summer meal sites are located in schools, recreation centers, community-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and camps. The program begins at the end of the school year, and ends in the fall when school begins. All kids and teens (18 years old and younger) are eligible for the program, regardless of income.

Q: Why would a food bank operate Summer Meals sites?

A: At St. Leo Food Connection we run the largest food bank in Pierce County and one of the only food banks in the county that is open on Saturdays. Our Backpack Program provides two days worth of food on Fridays to more than 600 children at numerous Tacoma and Clover Park Public Schools. We know from the growth of this program that many children in our community are at-risk of going hungry. This sad truth is only exacerbated during the summer when school breakfasts and lunches are not available for many of the children who rely on them during the school year. Last year we served more than 700 children daily throughout the summer, but we know that the need is even greater. With the program expansions that we are putting into place, we anticipate that we will be serving close to 800 children on weekdays throughout the summer.

Q: How does the Summer Meals Program impact the community?

A: Parents and caregivers in the community are relieved to know that they have a safe place to send their kids for healthy meals during the summer. Last year a grandmother of several kids who attended one of our sites expressed it this way, “The Summer Feeding Program is really good for the kids because it gives them fresh foods and it is really hard to buy fresh foods on public assistance. Sometimes when a parent could not give their child snacks, they would keep their kids inside because they did not have enough snacks for all the kids outside. You feel bad for the other kids, but you cannot really help them. The SFP means food equity for the kids here at the apartments.”

To locate a Summer Meals site near you, call the Family Food Hotline, 1-888-436-6392 or visit the online search tool at ParentHelp123.

Tags: food   food bank   hunger   low income   summer meals   

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