Filling the Gap: Food Resources for Families During Winter Break
Written by Rebecca Wolfe, WithinReach AmeriCorps Specialist
The holiday season is a fun and festive time, with parties to attend, gifts to shop for, and large meals to be shared. For many families, however, this can be a struggle. Free and reduced-price school meals have become a major source of nutrition for many children, and families often struggle to provide adequate food when these resources disappear over the winter holiday. As of the 2016-2017 school year, 473,309 students in Washington public schools were enrolled. That’s almost 43% of the student population. In Washington State, 1 in 5 children are a part of a household that struggles to put food on the table. For these kids, a school break can often make breakfast and lunch much harder to come by.
Here are a few ways to help fill in the gap:
Basic Food: If you are looking for food assistance, your household may be eligible for the Basic Food program, also known as SNAP, food stamps, and EBT. This program can be an excellent resource for families during the holidays and year-around. Your EBT card operates like a debit card and is loaded with a monetary benefit each month that can be used to purchase food. Most major grocery stores, including Safeway, QFC, Trader Joe’s, and Target, as smaller local and international markets are able to accept the funds.
Rollover Funds: An additional benefit of EBT is that unused funds will roll over from month to month. You can save up some extra dollars in anticipation of the winter holiday when the kids are home from school. You can also save up your EBT benefit to purchase a special holiday meal if you would like to. This is often particularly helpful for households with a low benefit amount. A $16 monthly benefit might not seem like much, but it can certainly add up over time and make it much easier to get food on the table over the holiday.
Fresh Bucks: Here in King County, we have an additional benefit to the Basic Food program called Fresh Bucks. The Fresh Bucks program doubles your dollars at farmers’ markets and some international markets nearby. When your $10 becomes $20, dinner is much more doable. Just swipe your EBT card at the information booth and you are on your way.
Food Banks: Food banks have gotten something of a bad rap over the years, reported to offer up a whole lot of canned goods and little else. While you can still get a can of beans if you would like to, many food banks have expanded far beyond this limited stock. In fact, many go out of their way to provide special holiday treats, such as egg-nog, candy canes, and spiral ham. Many also offer a wide range of produce, grains, meats, and other useful holiday items such as greeting cards and flowers. Just be sure to bring an ID and proof of address, such as a recent bill, so they can verify that you are utilizing the food bank meant for your zip code.
If you are interested in learning more about food resources for your family while the kids are off from school, please give us a call! We are available to answer questions and assist with applications via 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. Additionally, if you need help locating a food bank or farmers market near you, you can also visit www.ParentHelp123.org
Happy Holidays from us here at WithinReach!
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;
• 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 email@example.com.
*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.
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.