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!
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!
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.
We are all pathways of hope
At the recent Science of Hope Conference, hosted by our friends at the Foundation for Healthy Generations, I learned that hope can be measured, and it plays a key role in well-being. Research psychologists have identified 24 character strengths, that when maximized, help people flourish. These strengths help us cope with stress and adversity, AND, it turns out that hope is the top predictor of well-being!
There are 3 key elements in the theory of hope. First, we need a desirable goal; next we need a viable pathway or pathways to reach our goal, and last, we need the will or energy to move along the path to our goal.
This is actually the PERFECT description of the work we do with families every day. The families who reach out to us have critically desirable goals – whether it is a young woman who thinks she might be pregnant and doesn’t know what to do next, or a single Dad who has lost his job and can’t provide enough food for kids, or a newly re-located family who doesn’t know how to get connected to early intervention services for their son who has autism – everyone is driven to help their family be as healthy as possible.
Our work is about helping people find pathways to their goals, and feeling supported to move along the path, no matter the roadblocks that come their way.
Keynote speaker Professor Chan Hellman painted hope as a social gift, and each of us as a pathway of hope for others. It’s real, our work is about hope.
Beyond Open Enrollment: Qualifying Life Events
You may have heard that the Open Enrollment Period for health insurance closed on January 31st. You might be wondering if you can still get health insurance. The answer is yes, but only if you have a Qualifying Life Event before the next Open Enrollment Period. We’re here to break it down for you and help you figure out your next steps.
What counts as a Qualifying Life Event?
Adding a Dependent
- Foster Care
- Receipt of a court order (including child support)
Loss of Other Health Coverage
- Expiration of a non-calendar year health insurance policy (even if you have the option to renew)
- Loss of pregnancy-related Medicaid coverage
- Beginning or ending service in AmeriCorps, VISTA, or NCCC
- Loss of Employer Sponsored Insurance (ESI)
- Loss of Washington Apple Health (Medicaid)
- Loss of a Qualified Health Plan due to permanent move
Did you know?
You can enroll in a plan up to 60 days before or after the loss of other coverage. But, be sure to wait until the month your other coverage will end so you don’t have a month of overlapping coverage.
If you move and become a resident of Washington or move to a new county in Washington that results in new plan options.
Did you know?
A permanent move to Washington State is only a qualifying event if you had minimum essential coverage for at least one day within the 60 days before you moved?
Change in Citizenship or Lawful Presence Status
If you become a citizen, national, or lawfully present individual, you may qualify for a Special Enrollment Period.
Did you know?
Those with tribal membership (American Indian or Alaska Native), may enroll in a QHP or change from one QHP to another once a month (and access other benefits)!
Release from Jail/Prison
If you have at least one individual on an application that changes status from incarcerated to no longer incarcerated you may be able to open a Special Enrollment Period to sign up for coverage.
Special Enrollment Periods Only Available to Existing Customers
If you already have an account on WAHealthPlanFinder and are enrolled in a plan you can report the following events to open up a Special Enrollment Period to change your plan. You cannot get a Special Enrollment Period with the following events if you are a first time applicant.
Losing a Dependent or Dependent Status
- Legal Separation
Filed or Reconciled Taxes
If you received tax credits in the previous year, you must have correctly filed a tax return even if you do not usually have to file taxes. If you do not file a tax return and reconcile the tax credit you received, you will lose the opportunity to receive a tax credit until the IRS has confirmed that you have filed your federal taxes.
Change in Income
If your income changes, you could lose or gain eligibility for (or change the amount of) health insurance premium tax credits (help paying your monthly premium).
Did you know?
If your income is below a certain amount, you may qualify for Washington Apple Health. If this is the case, you don’t have to wait for an Open Enrollment Period– you can sign up any time!
Don’t know where to start or what you qualify for? Give the Family Health Hotline a call at (800) 322-2588!
Big transitions are tough–reach out for help!
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.
Open enrollment is here!
What do you need out of a Health Plan?
Health Plans are not one size fits all. If you plan on using your coverage only for preventive care, you may think that the cheapest plan is the best fit. But accidents happen—and they can lead to hefty out-of-pocket costs depending on the type of plan that you purchased. If you have existing health conditions or take prescription drugs, there are certain plans that can help keep your money right where it belongs: in your pocket. It can be helpful to think through all that you need from your health insurance before beginning the enrollment process so you end up with the best plan for you.
You may be eligible for subsidies to help you pay your premiums.
Worried about how having health insurance would impact your budget? You may be eligible for tax subsidies (also known as tax credits). Tax subsidies can help lower the cost of your monthly premium. You can apply these credits to your premium amount right away so that your monthly health insurance payment is affordable.
More plans means more competition–and that is a WIN for you and your budget!
There are a lot more plans to choose from this open enrollment period. Competition between these plans means that many plan premiums are lower that they were at last open enrollment. You should shop around even if you are already enrolled in a Health Plan. Even if you think your health plan is great, check out the other plans that are out there. Chances are, you will find a plan that is better and at a lower cost than the amount that you are already paying.
Avoid getting fined for not having health insurance.
Don’t pay a penalty for not having insurance coverage for you and your family. The fine for not having insurance in 2016 can cost you as much as $695 per uninsured person in your household or 2.5% of your yearly household income. That means that when you file your income taxes, the amount that you pay the IRS could increase fast! And if you anticipate a refund at tax time, the penalty can lower the amount that would otherwise go back into your pocket.
You may be eligible for free coverage today!
Depending on your income and other factors, you could qualify for immediate coverage. Washington Apple Health coverage is comprehensive and free, and will cover you today!
How can the WithinReach Family Health Hotline help?
Enrolling in a health plan can be confusing. Our friendly and knowledgeable staff can help you make sense of your options and apply for coverage for you and your family. Not only can we get you enrolled into affordable medical coverage over the phone, but we can also help you access other programs that can help you and your family stay healthy. Don’t hesitate to call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
Calling on Mom: How do I find a doctor who takes Washington Apple Health?
If you have a doctor that you would like to continue seeing…
You will want to contact your physician’s office to see if they accept Apple Health and–if they do–if they have a preferred network. Asking these questions will guide your next steps and put you on the right track so you can continue to see your preferred physician.
If your preferred doctor DOES accept Apple Health…
That’s great! Now that you know your physician’s preferred Apple Health network, you will want to request enrollment into that network. For assistance and guidance regarding this process, you can call our Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588.
When you’re ready to enroll in a specific network, you can call the Medical Assistance Customer Service Center at 1-800-562-3022 to enroll into a specific network or log into ProviderOne (make sure you use Windows Explorer as your browser) to switch your enrollment online.
If your preferred doctor DOES NOT accept Apple Health…
That’s too bad, but don’t panic! You have a few options to choose from. If you have yet to be assigned a specific network or Managed Care Health Plan, you can call our Family Health Hotline and we can find you a clinic in your area that accepts Apple Health. If you have already received your Managed Care Plan, you will have an assigned primary care provider (PCP) or clinic printed on the front of the card along with a contact number.
If you DO NOT have a preferred doctor…
You should be able to follow the same steps as if your provider does not accept Apple Health. You can contact our Family Health Hotline to find a clinic in your area who accepts the coverage or you can refer to your Managed Care Plan card to see the PCP you have been assigned to.
Keep in mind that you can always switch your Managed Care Plan if you do not like the plan that you are currently enrolled in or if you have already been in enrolled into a plan that your preferred physician does not accept. If you have any questions about your coverage and need help navigating your health insurance benefits, please call our Family Health Hotline at (800) 322-2588. We are here to help you!
For general information about your Apple Health coverage, read our other blog post, I Have Insurance Through Washington Apple Health. What Is Next?
Our resident Mom (also known as Chris Gray) is a fulltime mother to a rambunctious and curious 2 year old, and is expecting her second child in early March. During the day, she is also an Outreach and Enrollment specialist at WithinReach and a Certified Navigator. Chris has first-hand experience being enrolled in programs such as Apple Health and WIC. She also supports the Breastfeeding Coalition of Washington and is a Certified Lactation Educator.
5 things you didn’t know about ORCA LIFT
1. You sign up in person and get the card right away
2. Unlike a standard ORCA card which costs $5, the LIFT card is FREE
…but it doesn’t look different at all!
3. Bus rides only cost $1.50 and you won’t get charged more during rush hour
4. You can use it on the Water Taxi
5. You’re signed up for 2 years of eligibility even if your income changes!
ORCA LIFT offers reduced-cost transportation to qualified individuals on King County Metro Transit buses, Sound Transit Link light rail, King County Water Taxi and Seattle Streetcar. The reduced fare for frequent riders can be $54 for an entire month of unlimited rides! For less frequent riders, the cost is $1.50 per trip. The income requirement for the program is 200% of the federal poverty level, which is the same income requirement for the Basic Food program. So if you qualify for food stamps in Washington, then you will likely be eligible for ORCA LIFT. In-person verification is needed prior to the distribution of an ORCA LIFT card. Once enrolled in ORCA LIFT an individual will be eligible to receive benefits for two years before having to reapply. Plus, you don’t have to live in King County to enroll! To find out where you can sign up, call the Family Health Hotline today!
Community connections for children with special health care needs
I have two children, both of whom occupy varying points on the autism spectrum (often depending on the day) with some other health issues thrown into the mix. As they have grown, so have their amazing personalities; so have the challenges. I suspect it is not all that different for parents of typically-developing children. Community can be particularly important for families with children who present unique challenges (and skills!) beyond the usual antics. However, for reasons from accessibility, to awareness, to stigma, those challenges/differences can be isolating.
Children and youth with special health care needs are those who have or are at risk for a chronic physical, developmental, behavioral, or emotional condition and who also require health and related services beyond what children generally require. For example, a child who has a developmental disability such as Down syndrome, as well as asthma or allergies, would be considered to have a special health care need. Another example might be someone with ADHD and diabetes. In Washington State, an estimated 235,920 children and youth under age 18 have a special health care need – that is 15% of all youth. Connection to health care, education, community, and family support are important factors in the quality of life for individuals with special health care needs and their families.
One important resource for children and families with a diagnosed or potential special health care need is Early Intervention, which is a system of services that can help infants and toddlers with disabilities or delays to learn key skills and catch up in their development. For children from birth to age three, Washington State Early Intervention providers offer free developmental evaluations and support services like speech, physical, or behavior therapy. These services “are designed to enable young children to be active, independent and successful participants in a variety of settings.”
In addition, Washington State has a robust and active family network of support when it comes to children and youth with special health care needs. From Parent to Parent, to PAVE , to the Father’s Network, caregivers with personal experience navigating the emotional and logistic complexities of special health care needs are an important resource. Whether you are just starting out on your journey, or have a question relating to a very specific diagnosis, chances are there is another family out there who has been down a similar path and can offer some experiential advice.
Raising children is hard and beautiful and humbling. It is a deeply individual, personal experience while at the same time having the capacity to be incredibly unifying. Parent and caregiver networks, supportive clinicians, and educational advocates have proved invaluable in my own journey to empower myself and my children to thrive and contribute as members of our local community. Working at WithinReach, I have the opportunity to help other families thrive, too.
To find out if your child would benefit from early intervention, ask your primary care provider or call our specialists at the Family Health Hotline (1-800-322-2588). This statewide, toll-free number offers help in English, Spanish and other languages.
You can find out more about peer support networks by calling the Answers for Special Kids line at 1-800-322-2588 or by visiting www.ParentHelp123.org.
Protecting newborns from whooping cough: a new protocol at WithinReach
A few weeks ago, WithinReach’s Immunization and Healthy Connections Teams collaborated to roll out a new conversation pathway with callers to the Family Health Hotline, where our friendly and informed staff helps callers understand and apply for a variety of food, health, and child development resources in Washington State. We are proud of the fact that all pregnant callers, or all callers who are in a household with a pregnant person, are now being advised of the recommendation that all pregnant women get a booster of the Tdap vaccine in every pregnancy. The Tdap booster ensures continued immunity from three diseases: tetanus diphtheria, and pertussis. We are particularly concerned about pertussis, commonly known as whooping cough, in Washington for several reasons:
- We are seeing a surge in new cases right now.
- Whooping cough makes babies very, very sick, and some die.
- Most babies who get whooping cough get it from a person in their household, particularly a parent.
- If the booster is given to the mother in the third trimester, some immunity will be conferred to the baby, offering some protection if the baby is exposed to an infected person.
- Babies cannot begin the vaccination series until they are 8 weeks old.
The above-listed reasons, combined with the fact that our Healthy Connections Team interfaces with more than 250,000 families per year, makes this the ideal venue to protect families from this disease. This recommendation is new, so many people may not have heard about it. To learn about the recommendations for pregnant women, read more from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Lastly, antibodies for pertussis wane over time, so it’s critical that everyone (regardless of if you are in contact with a pregnant woman) consult their doctor about a booster. In particular, adolescents are scheduled to get their booster dose of Tdap in the 11-12 age range. But outside of these groups, please make sure you’re up-to-date with your Tdap vaccine, especially if you did not get a booster as a teen or pre-teen. With waning immunity, risk increases, and the best thing you can do to protect a newborn is to ensure that you’re providing a disease-free cocoon around that child.
Updated WIC Materials Are Here!
Last year, the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, known as WIC, made a difference for over 304,000 people in Washington State. WIC helps improve the health of pregnant women, new moms, and families with children under age 5 through monthly checks for healthy food, health screenings and referrals, breastfeeding support, and nutrition education. Dads, grandparents, and other caregivers of children under the age of 5 may also sign kids up for WIC.
Help us reach more people who may be missing out on this important nutrition resource. WIC materials are free to any service provider (including employers!) in Washington State. Visit us online to order materials, or to simply learn more about WIC eligibility.
Finding a WIC clinic close to you is easy! Families can text “WIC” to 96859 to find a clinic in their area. Families can also go online to the ParentHelp123 Resource Finder or call the Family Health Hotline at 1-800-322-2588 to learn more about WIC.