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!
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.
A Call to End Summer Hunger
In Washington State, roughly 1 in 5 of all families with children struggle to put food on the table regularly. During the summer, the problem is exacerbated particularly for children who rely on meals from the free or reduced school lunch programs.
In hopes of ending summer hunger and addressing summer learning loss, the Summer Meals Program provides healthy, FREE meals for kids and teens under age 18 during the summer months. There are no citizenship or income requirements, and registration is also not required. The sites are held in various locations such as schools, community centers, libraries, YMCAs, parks and apartment complexes. Some of these sites have enrichment activities for children to help prevent summer learning loss so children are prepared to jump back into school come fall. This low-barrier program is a great resource for all families looking for something to do during the summer.
In King County, WithinReach has partnered with United Way of King County to reach a goal of serving an additional 82,500 meals this summer. WithinReach assists in the promotion of Summer Meals and serves as the local point of contact for families looking to locate a site close to them. Since February, our Summer Meals VISTA and Community Partnership team has partnered with school districts, attended community events, provided presentations to network meetings, and distributed materials to community organizations to promote the Summer Meals Program. It is a highly-needed resource in the community, but is often underutilized due to lack of awareness.
To continue the momentum of promoting Summer Meals, WithinReach hosted two Summer Meals Phone-a-thons on June 23rd and July 8th with volunteers to connect families to their nearest Summer Meals site.
At each event, our dedicated volunteers spent two hours in the evening at WithinReach’s office to make calls to families that had previously been assisted by WithinReach staff. Our 14 volunteers collectively made 385 calls, sharing Summer Meals information and offering to connect clients to their closest sites. Of the families they spoke to, 98% had never accessed Summer Meals, and many families indicated their appreciation in receiving a phone call. In addition to connecting families to Summer Meals, volunteers also made referrals to other services such as Basic Food benefits, health insurance and affordable housing options. While these events were largely successful in reaching new families that have never accessed Summer Meals, it also revealed that there is much more work that can be done.
Due to the great success of the events and work of volunteers, we have created a new volunteer opportunity for anyone that is interested in conducting Summer Meals calls on a more regular basis during WithinReach’s office hours. If you are interested, please contact Anna Balser at email@example.com for more information.
To find your nearest Summer Meals site please click here or text MEALS to 96859.
Food Stamps and Farmers Markets: Produce for all?
WithinReach Bridge to Basics Outreach team, AmeriCorps
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 . 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 .
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.
Policy Workshop: Breakfast After the Bell
It is unclear how the Legislature will act to fund K-12, but it is very clear to WithinReach and its partners that hungry kids can’t learn well. WithinReach is working with partner organizations to develop and promote Breakfast After the Bell Legislation; that will require a nutritious breakfast to be offered as part of the school day in high needs schools, just like lunch. There is early bi-partisan support for this initiative that has proven to successfully increase participation in school breakfast. We will keep you posted about the measure’s progress.
In addition to our senior policy manager, Carrie Glover, and our lobbyist, Erin Dziedzic, the board heard very informative presentations from Katie Mosehauer with Washington Appleseed, and Julie Peterson with the Prevention Alliance. The board was very impressed by the willingness and ability of like-minded organizations to set priorities and agree to work together. The state faces a huge budget challenge with high risks to programs benefiting families and children. The breadth and strength of the coalitions and community partners we work with will assure that our voices are heard ….will assure that the voices of the families we serve are heard!
World Breastfeeding Week 2014
By Alessandra DeMarchis, WithinReach Breastfeeding Promotion Intern
Last fall, I started the Master in Public Health program at the University of Washington with a focus on nutritional science. I have been interested in nutrition and food since before I can remember, but this fall I learned about the world’s most perfect food: breast milk. Breast milk is amazing! As a young woman, it is incredible to know that my body has the capacity to create the most nutritious food for a baby. Not only can my body produce enough of this food to sustain even twins, it also changes in composition, synchronized to the changing needs of the baby. Breast milk is a baby’s first vaccine and only food source for six months. Did I mention it is free? Breast milk is so powerful that it can actually reduce my future baby’s risk of obesity, high blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes, while at the same time reducing my risk of certain cancers.
So why did the CDC Breastfeeding Report Card from 2013 show that only 76.5% of babies in the United States have ever breastfed, and a mere 49.0% of babies are breastfeeding at 6 months? Washington State is not doing much better, with only 87.9% of babies ever being breastfed and 60.2% being breastfed at 6 months. If breast milk is free and the most perfect food source for a baby, than why are so many babies receiving artificial formulas? Until the 19th century, women throughout history exclusively breastfed their babies. Why did formula become the new normal and breastfeeding an activity done in secluded places? The truth is that breastfeeding can be especially difficult when mothers do not have emotional, informational, and logistical support of their family, friends, co-workers, employers, medical providers, community, and government.
World Breastfeeding Week, held every year from August 1 – 7, creates the opportunity for groups and organizations around the world to take action for raising awareness and support for breastfeeding. World Breastfeeding Week 2014 highlights the role of breastfeeding in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDG). The eight MDGs were set in 1990 to promote sustainable development and health and eradicate poverty and hunger. Breastfeeding is linked to each of the MDGs. In terms of the first goal, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, breast milk is a cost effective way of feeding babies, packed with high quality nutrients and energy. For the goal to ensure environmental sustainability, breastfeeding creates less waste from pharmaceuticals, plastic, aluminum, as well as firewood and fossil fuels. To achieve the post-2015 development agenda, organizations around the world must acknowledge and emphasize the value of increasing and maintaining the protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding.
World Breastfeeding Week is a time for organizations to take action toward a world where breastfeeding is once again the societal norm. Every child should have a fair start at life, and that means ensuring all mothers have the support they need to provide their babies with breast milk.
Click here to see how Within Reach is promoting World Breastfeeding week. To learn more about World Breastfeeding Week and this year’s theme, visit http://worldbreastfeedingweek.org/.
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.