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Basic Food

The Ins and Outs of Basic Food

Written by Signe Burchim, WithinReach AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

One of the many programs that our talented Outreach and Enrollment team assists people with is the Basic Food program. Basic Food, formerly known as food stamps, is Washington’s version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program. The program helps families (and individuals) supplement their grocery budget each month and put more wholesome, delicious food on the table.

So how does this program actually work?
For starters, long gone are the days of the program being administered on actual stamps, or paper: the benefits are administered on a plastic electronic benefits transfer card (typically called an EBT card), that looks just like a debit card, and comes with a pin number. Each month, benefits are loaded onto your card on the same day and are ready to use!

2017 Income guidelines (effective 4/1/2017):

Oftentimes, we hear from clients that they are hesitant to sign up for the basic food program for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, there are quite a few misconceptions floating around, and I would like to clear some of those up!

Some of the most common things we hear from clients:

“I’m not eligible because I don’t have a family” – You do not have to have a family, or children to be on basic food. If you are single, as long as you meet all of the other requirements, you are eligible for the program.

“I’m not eligible because I am a college student” – Students are not typically eligible for the program but there are some exceptions.

  • Students employed for an average of 20 hours per week (80 hours per month).
    – Unpaid internships do not count.
  • Students responsible for more than half of the care for a dependent under five.
  • Students that are single parents who have a child that is eleven or younger.
  • Students participating in WorkFirst.
  • Students participating in a work study program.

“It is not worth signing up because I will have a low benefit amount” – Low benefit amounts may also help you qualify for other programs, like low-cost cell phone service, or free/reduced price lunch for children in school. Benefits also roll over every month, so you can save them up for something special like a holiday, or birthday party.

“Someone else needs this benefit more than I do” – Basic Food is an entitlement program, which means that anyone who is eligible can get it without taking away benefits from someone else, and unused money is not allocated to other families.

“Not everyone in my family is a citizen” – You can apply for the members in your household who meet the citizenship requirements – for example, if three people are eligible, and two are not, the three that meet the eligibility requirements would receive benefits.

“There are too many restrictions on what food you can buy” – Nope, there are no restrictions on the brands or types of food you can buy. The choice is yours! However, you cannot purchase alcohol, or hot food from the deli that has been prepared for you.

If you think you might be interested in enrolling in, or learning more about the Basic Food program, or any other nutrition assistance programs, give us a call on our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588!

Tags: Basic Food   Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card   Enrollment   Family Health Hotline   food   food benefits   food program   Food security   food stamps   SNAP   Washington state   

Tax Season is Here!

Written by Becca Reardon, AmeriCorps Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

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.

Tags: Basic Food   health insurance   United Way of King County   

Fighting Holiday Hunger

food stamps child

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

Tags: Basic Food   Food banks   food stamps   Seattle   Washington state   

Ending Stigma Through Education

We asked new AmeriCorps team member Rachel to write about her experience at WithinReach so far. We are so glad she and the rest of the team are with us to serve families in Washington this year! Stay tuned for more outreach stories as their service year continues.
When I moved to Seattle this September to serve as a member of WithinReach’s AmeriCorps team, I was immediately impressed by the number non-profits and agencies working in the community. Seattle is an area rich in resources and commitment to fostering wellness for all. During my service year I look forward to learning more about all this community has to offer and best practices for reaching and serving disadvantaged populations. As someone who is pursuing a career in social work, this position offers a unique opportunity to see first-hand the barriers people face when trying to access the supports they need.
One such challenge I learned about since I began my service at WithinReach, is how misinformation about public assistance, like Basic Food and Medicaid, can prevent people from accessing the supports they need to achieve their highest level of wellness. I have had several clients who have decided not to apply for Basic Food even though they qualified because they think they will be keeping someone else from getting those benefits. One gentleman said, “there are people who need it more than me.” Even after I explained to him that Basic Food is an entitlement program so everyone who applies and is deemed eligible for the program can receive benefits, he still did not want to apply.
Oftentimes the issue is not just inaccurate information, like if you get Food Stamps someone else cannot, but also the stigma associated with accepting public assistance. A common narrative in our country is that people who receive food assistance are lazy and don’t want to work to be able to provide for themselves. However, most of the clients I have worked with just need a little extra support temporarily while they look for job, are not able to work, or are working but don’t make enough to support their families. All of these circumstances are out of their control.
One goal I have for my service term is to help combat misconceptions around public assistance through educating my clients. It is absolutely up to each person to decide if Basic Food and other programs are the best fit for their needs. It is my job as navigator to ensure they have all the correct information to make this decision, and know that they are not harming someone else by accepting assistance.

Tags: AmeriCorps   Basic Food   food stamps   National Service   Seattle   stories of service   

Basic Food Changes in 2016

Written by Maricruz Sanchez, Bilingual Outreach & Enrollment Specialist

 Do I have to be working in order to qualify for Basic Food/SNAP/the Food Stamp Program?
The answer to this question has most commonly been “no,” but this is going to change starting January 1st, 2016 if you are an able bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) living in King, Snohomish, and parts of Pierce County*. Because Washington state has seen high unemployment rates in the last few years, residents have been temporarily exempt from having to meet certain work requirements to qualify for the Basic Food (food stamps) program. The temporary suspension of this work requirement is known as the ABAWD time limit waiver. However, recent declines in the unemployment rate in the areas listed above have prompted policy changes that will reinstate work requirements; basically, ABAWDs have to be working to qualify for Basic Food starting on January 1st (although there are some exceptions).
  
Who counts as an ABAWD?
Generally speaking, an able-bodied adult without dependents (ABAWD) includes individuals from the age of 18 through 49 who are not responsible for the care of a child or an incapacitated household member. When the ABAWD waiver expires on January 1st, ABAWD recipients of Basic Food benefits are limited to 3 months of benefits in a 36 month period. Once that 3 month grace period is up, ABAWDs are required to meet additional work requirements in order to continue to qualify for Basic Food. The current ABAWD time limit waiver is set to expire on December 30, 2015, meaning ABAWD clients in the affected areas of King, Snohomish, and Pierce County may begin their first month of a limited 3 month food benefit in January. At the end of those three months, unless they are fulfilling the ABAWD work requirement, they will not be eligible to receive benefits again until January 1, 2018, when the current 36 month period resets.
 
We know this is a lot of confusing information. A major priority in preparing for this change is ensuring that all clients whose benefits could be affected have access to clear information about what to expect and how to fulfill the work requirement if necessary. To be clear, some ABAWD individuals on Basic Food can be exempt from work requirements. This includes individuals who are:
 
• Younger than eighteen or older than forty-nine years old;
• Determined to be physically or mentally unable to work for at least 3 months in the future;
• Caring for a person who is incapacitated;
• Living in a household with a child, even if the child is not receiving Basic Food for reasons such as alien status;
• Pregnant;
• Applying for or receiving unemployment benefits;
Qualified students in school at least half time;
• Participating in a chemical dependency treatment and rehabilitation program; or
• Eligible for one of the annual federal-approved exemption slots under the fifteen percent exemption rule.
 
 
What if I don’t meet any of the criteria above?
This means that you’re considered a non-exempt ABAWD, and that you must participate in one of the following activities in order to meet the necessary work requirement and continue to get food benefits:
 
• Work at least 20 hours per week, or a minimum average of 80 hours per month (this includes work study hours);
• Complete at least 16 hours per month of unpaid volunteer work;
• Participate in a Basic Food Employment and Training (BFET) program.
 
If your benefits are terminated after your 3 months of food assistance without having met work requirements, you can become eligible again if you participate in one of the requirements above.
DSHS has made plans to mail postcards to ABAWD clients offering information about enrollment in BFET services, so keep an eye out. They are also working to assure that ABAWD exemptions are carefully considered for clients who may not be subject to these work requirements. Finally, they are issuing communications in hopes that affected ABAWDs will have a clear understanding of how they may go about fulfilling work requirements.
 
Even with all of this effort from DSHS, it is a big change and we know that many will have questions. You can call WithinReach at the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 with any questions about this transition. You can also email DSHS for information about BFET and volunteer opportunities at jobhelp@dshs.wa.gov.
 
 
*In Pierce County, the cities of Tacoma and Lakewood will not be affected by this policy change; ABAWDS residing in these cities will continue to be exempt from work requirements.

Tags: ABAWD waiver   Basic Food   DSHS   EBT   food stamps   King County   Pierce County   Snohomish County   

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.

Tags: Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT   families   food stamps   King County   Nutrition   summer meals   

Big transitions are tough–reach out for help!

Written by Joi Huie, Outreach & Enrollment Specialist
Fall is upon us! While retailers are pushing us to think about pumpkin-spice everything, many of us have our minds on the increasing heat bill, and the grocery budget. This was the case for Aaron, who submitted a request for food assistance on our ParentHelp123 website over the weekend. On Monday morning I received Aaron’s request. I didn’t know what his circumstances were, but I was prepared to call and do a quick screening over the phone to let Aaron know if he might be eligible for a few different assistance programs and connect him to food resources.

Around noon I gave Aaron a call because he mentioned that he was available for contact during his lunch hour. Once we were on the phone, I quickly found out that he and his wife were new parents and newly on a single income. His wife had taken extended leave to stay at home with their baby for the first few months. I also learned that this new dad was a full time student at the local technical college. This family was undergoing a lot of big changes at once, and I could tell that they were overwhelmed. Aaron let me know that they didn’t plan on needing assistance for very long – just a little help during this new transition period. After the brief screening, it appeared that Aaron’s household was likely eligible for Basic Food, Washington’s food assistance program. He was interested in pursuing Basic Food benefits so we took a few more minutes and completed the application together over the phone.

Amidst this new, exciting time in their lives Aaron and his wife found some financial stress. Aaron mentioned that with the single income they would really have to keep an eye on their expenses. He wanted to mitigate some of the challenges that would come with supporting his family on tight budget: “I don’t want to have to choose between money for gas and money for food, you know?” Aaron made it clear that one area of expenditure he did not want to worry about was proper nutrition for his family.

It can be difficult discussing “money problems” or financial instability, let alone conveying that you may be facing food insecurity. Aaron admitted that it was tough to even acknowledge a need, but he was open to receiving information about local resources and finding out if Basic Food was an option for his family. Basic Food and programs like it exist to help people when they are vulnerable— at WithinReach, we all believe that people like Aaron should never have to worry about how to put food on the table.

Our team is extremely knowledgeable about Washington’s Basic Food program and eligibility criteria. We’re happy to walk you through the process of applying for Basic Food. We make it simple and streamlined – you can complete your application over the phone with us, and go to your local DSHS office the very next day for your interview.

To find out if you might be eligible for Basic Food, call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 or check out our Benefit Finder.

Tags: Basic Food   benefit programs   Family Health Hotline   food   food stamps   ParentHelp123   Washington state   WithinReach   

Obstacles to Access: Tent City

By Amber Bellazaire, WithinReach Outreach & Enrollment Specialist, AmeriCorps
The AmeriCorps team at WithinReach recently began a new outreach effort at Tent City 3, a homeless encampment temporarily located across the street from Seattle Pacific University. On a chilly evening, a few members of the team arrived, prepared to help residents connect with food and health resources. While assisting these clients, our conversations turned to some of the other challenges they faced in accessing health care and nutrition benefits.

Several residents of Tent City 3 shared that they were in need of dental care, but were having difficulty finding a dentist that would take their Apple Health insurance. We were able to use the WithinReach Resource Finder to pull up a list of providers for these clients to use; however, lack of regular internet and phone access makes finding accessible dental and health care an ongoing struggle.

Similarly, a woman enrolled in Washington Apple Health and Basic Food told us that she was unable to access her benefits because she had recently been a victim of theft. This is an issue that disproportionately affects the homeless, who often don’t have a secure place to store their belongings. Her cell phone and wallet were stolen while she was sleeping, leaving her without personal identification cards, insurance cards, Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, or a way to connect and replace these items. In this situation, simply contacting the various agencies in order to request replacement cards was a great challenge and a barrier limiting this woman’s access to health services and food.

Also that night, a 23-year-old woman we worked with was having difficulty accessing the prescription she needed to treat her bronchitis. People experiencing homelessness tend to be more susceptible to chronic illnesses, such as bronchitis, than those with stable housing. Without regular access to a mailbox, this young woman had not received her insurance card and had been denied prescriptions from her pharmacy, even though she has active coverage. We were able to offer suggestions about locations where she could receive mail in the future, and provided her with the phone numbers she needed to replace her insurance card.

Although the AmeriCorps team was able to offer short-term solutions to these clients so that they could access health and food resources, barriers to access, remain in place for the homeless population. These client interactions reminded me that simply signing a person up for benefits is often not enough; working around or removing barriers such as the lack of a mailbox or regular phone access is necessary for successfully connecting homeless clients. As we continue our outreach work with homeless communities, it is important to remember these common issues and try our best to work around them so that all of our clients can have access to health and food resources, no matter what their living situation is.

Need Shelter? Find Tent City sites here: http://www.sharewheel.org/Home/tent-cities

 

Tags: access   AmeriCrops   Basic Food   Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card   Health care   homeless communities   ParentHelp123   resource finder   Seattle   Shelter   Tent City 3   Washington Apple Health   WithinReach   

Food Stamps and Farmers Markets: Produce for all?

By Jessica Vu and Emma Lieuwen,
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
An important way the WithinReach Bridge to Basics team helps families and individuals at outreach sites is by connecting them to the Basic Food Program (Food Stamps) —Washington’s, state-managed subsidiary of the USDA’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Additionally we provide other information about public benefit programs available, as a means of ensuring that our clients have access to the health and food resources they need to be healthy.
As AmeriCorps members, we also qualify for the program; and after completing the application process and receiving our EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) cards, we were able to explore the power of our new, dedicated grocery funds. We were pleased to discover, that our funds weren’t limited to grocery stores but could also be used at farmers markets.
With many of us not from the area, we soon found out that Seattle is home to seven bustling farmers markets. At farmers markets we saw signs that read “Double your EBT dollars!” and were naturally intrigued. To use an EBT card at a market, Basic Food recipients simply stop by the manager’s tent to have their EBT cards swiped, they then receive tokens for a chosen amount. Here’s where the doubling comes in: Up to $10 of EBT funds are matched with $10 in “Fresh Bucks,” or vouchers that can be used to buy fresh produce.

Photo: Tokens given for desired EBT amount (center) and Fresh Bucks for fruits and vegetables (right). Image from Food Access: FreshBucks page on: seattlefarmersmarkets.org

Having the $20 to spend at the market for $10 of EBT funds is not only an incentive to eat more fruits and vegetables, but also to use the market in general. The Fresh Bucks program in Seattle is not the only one of its kind in the country being used to raise awareness and encourage the purchase of fresh, local, produce; nationally, 5,000 farmers markets accept EBT, while 1,000 both accept EBT and will double the amount [1]. The doubling programs are made possible partially by new government funds in the most recent Farm Bill. The US Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) allotted $31 million with the goal of assisting SNAP recipients in having access to fruits and vegetables [2].

After learning more about the implementation and scope of the Fresh Bucks and EBT use at farmer’s markets, we were inclined to further consider what kinds of issues lead to the need for such programs in the first place. We realized that our awareness of Fresh Bucks benefits stemmed entirely from the fact that we were already regularly shopping at farmers markets, even before receiving our EBT cards. While our AmeriCorps team represents a particular demographic that is both inclined to shop at farmers’ markets and income-eligible for SNAP, we have come to realize that many of our clients at outreach sites are less familiar with the option of using EBT funds at farmers’ markets. What kinds of barriers prevent our clients from utilizing these benefits, and why is there a need to incentivize the use of EBT cards at local markets?

The answer to this question is more complicated than it would seem. Issues of food access stem from the fact that, though they oftentimes reside in the midst of an abundance of food resources, many low-income communities in cities throughout the U.S. do not have access to fresh and nutritious food because it is more affordable to feed families with calorie-dense, nutrient-poor, processed food items.

A popular response to this critical social issue is to educate low-income communities about the importance of eating healthy—to make them understand that although the initial cost is high, eating nutritious foods is much more beneficial for individuals and families in the long-run. But what many of these advocates often miss is the fact that this perspective is a byproduct of socioeconomic privilege–a solution that works well for people that can afford to prioritize their needs, but not for most others. Although the injustice is located at the systems level, we all too often place the onus on the oppressed to simply change their habits as a means of fixing the problem.

Although, the Fresh Bucks program increases the purchasing power of lower-income individuals, it ignores the fact that food access is not a purely economic issue–there are social and cultural barriers that still prevent many Basic Food (SNAP) recipients from taking advantage of all the resources available to them.

As individuals who were drawn to a position related to food accessibility and nutrition, we come with a familiarity with farmers markets, and it was not a challenge to integrate the SNAP benefits into our existing consumer practices. We receive this advantage as we use the program ourselves, and can work to improve access to programs like Fresh Bucks for others. Our job/work as AmeriCrops members is to do more than just inform clients of their options and encourage healthy choices, but also to bring an understanding of social, cultural and economic barriers that our clients may face into practice, which, to us, may seem well within reach. The implementation of programs like Fresh Bucks is an important step in the direction toward improved nutrition for low-income individuals and families, but there is still a need to ensure that these programs are accessible to all.

 

Tags: Barriers   Basic Food   benefit programs   EBT card   families   Farm Bill   Farmers Markets   food   fresh local produce   low income   NIFA   Nutrition   Seattle   SNAP   

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   

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   

This AmeriCorps Life

Hi! We are the WithinReach AmeriCorps, aka the AmeriCrew.What do we do? We help low-income individuals and families navigate & gain access to public benefits including Basic Food (food stamps) and Apple Health for Kids (Medicaid/CHIP). Not to mention all the community resources to which we refer our clients.

Who are we? We are part of the 80,000 AmeriCorps across the country that serve in nonprofits, schools, public agencies and community groups. Our service is at WithinReach as Community Outreach Specialists.

 

A typical day in the life of our AmeriCorps team:

8-9am: the AmeriCorps stumbles into the office, impeccably dressed in their gray vest. In a mad rush to the kitchen, the AmeriCorps manages to snag the last of the first morning coffee—success!
9am: the AmeriCorps settles in at their desk to check their email and listen to messages left by clients either confused by the next steps in applying for benefits, or beyond thankful for the help provided by our helpful AmeriCorps. The AmeriCorps then makes sure to stock up their outreach kit for the journey that awaits them that day.
10am: The AmeriCorps heads out to one of our partners in Kirkland, Hopelink, via I-5 traffic, crossing the 520 toll bridge and taking in a spectacular view of Lake Washington on the way, complete with a hazy view of Mount Rainier in the distance. The British monotone of their talking GPS maps soothes them on their way.
10:30-12:30: The AmeriCorps arrives at their site, promptly taking charge of the situation. They approach as many people as possible within the food banks to help them get signed up for Basic Food (food stamps) or to give them additional community resources like utility assistance.
12:30: The AmeriCorps, having distributed a good portion of their resources, and successfully helped several families apply for Basic Food, makes the satisfied trip back to the office.
1pm: The now exhausted AmeriCorps takes their lunch break, munching on canned tuna or last night’s leftovers whilst in the company of other friendly WithinReach staff.
1:30-3pm: The AmeriCorps inputs data from that day’s outreach, completes follow-up calls to clients, perhaps checks out a new recipe on Pinterest, has another cup of coffee to even out the day. A good portion of this time might be spent waiting on a phone call  to advocate for clients.
3-4pm: The AmeriCorps attends the weekly meeting for the outreach team. Nestled cozily together in a small conference room, the AmeriCorps listens and participates in a discussion of upcoming events and ongoing projects, concerns, etc.
4-5pm: Having completed yet another day of rewarding work, the AmeriCorps collects their personal items and head out to their car, heading home to rest, relax, and enjoy the delights of Seattle.

Stay Tuned …(For more information about our awesome AmeriCorps team and our daily work)

Tags: AmericaCorps   Apple health for Kids   Basic Food   CHIP   National Service   Volunteer   

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