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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   

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   

2016 Legislative Summary

Written by Carrie Glover, Senior Policy Manager

At about 11:00pm on March 29th the 2016 legislative session was adjourned. This year was a ‘short session’ that was mostly focused on writing a supplemental budget.

WithinReach did very well this session, including securing funding for an immunization validation tool and a school module within the Immunization Information System (IIS), which was our top priority going into 2016.  It was a great year of working with our partners in Olympia and we made real progress in breaking down barriers that prevent families from living healthy lives.

We also supported some additional issues as they emerged through session, and those also fared very well.  Below is a summary of the outcomes of our top priorities as well as other issues we supported this session that had successful outcomes.

Here is a brief summary of where we landed in the budget for our priorities:

Immunization Validation Tool & School Module within the IIS (budget only)

  • Budget ask: $511,000>
  • Final Amount funded: $511,000

Developmental and Autism Screenings for Medicaid (budget only)

  • Budget ask: Maintain current funding
  • Outcome: No cuts were made to the screenings

HB 1295: Breakfast After the Bell (budget and bill)

  • Bill: Require all high needs schools to offer breakfast after the bell
  • Budget ask: $2.692 million for startup grants
  • Outcome: Unfortunately the Breakfast After the Bell legislation did not pass this year.  Since the bill didn’t pass, the startup grants also were not funded in the final budget

Healthiest Next Generation (budget only)

  • Budget ask: fund staff positions at OSPI & DEL for this initiative
  • Outcome: Unfortunately this was not funded in the final budget

Other issues we supported that were successful:

HB 2877: Expanding SNAP Distribution dates

  • Bill: Expand the distribution dates for SNAP beneficiaries from the 1st through 10th of the month to the 1st through the 20th of the month
  • Budget ask: funding needed to implement the system change
  • Outcome: The bill passed with a great deal of support and $300,000 in funding was included for implementation in the final budget 

HB 2439: Mental health services for children and youth

  • Bill: Increasing access to adequate and appropriate mental health services for children and youth including establishing a workgroup to identify barriers in accessing mental health services, report on the status of access to services, expand the Partnership Access Line (PAL), and require coverage for annual depression screenings according to the Bright Future guidelines
  • Budget ask: funding needed for implementation of the workgroup, inventory of services, expansion of the PAL line, and the depression screenings.
  • Outcome: The bill passed, though with only the workgroup and inventory of services.  The PAL line was funded in the final budget even though it wasn’t included in the final bill.  Unfortunately the depression screenings weren’t funded or included in the bill.

SB 5143: Childhood Immunization Resources

  • Bill: Requires DOH to develop resources for expecting parents about recommended childhood immunizations.
  • Outcome: This bill passed with a great deal of support and some of our WithinReach staff were able to be at the bill signing with Governor Inslee.

 

Learn more about the guiding principles of our policy work.

 

 

Tags: Breakfast After the Bell   Developmental Screening   food stamps   immunizations   SNAP   vaccines      Washington state   

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   

Partner Spotlight: United Way of King County

WithinReach is thrilled to have partnered with United Way of King County for the past 5 years to support our food access work through Bridge to Basics, Summer Meals and legislative efforts.

Our friends at UWKC recognize the importance of partnership and innovation, and invested in WithinReach’s work to connect families in crisis to basic needs programs, in particular Basic Food (food stamps). At the time of the economic downturn, the Basic Food program was sorely underutilized in King County, and federal dollars were not being effectively leveraged in our local communities (every $5 in food stamps spent generates $9 in local economic activity).  At the same time, UWKC realized that an on-the-ground approach was needed to connect with people who might otherwise slip through the cracks.  A partnership was born, with United Way providing the funding support, and WithinReach providing AmeriCorps staff and a deep knowledge of assistance programs, to help connect low-income families to Basic Food.

The program has evolved over the years, and our AmeriCorps team has nearly tripled in size! However, the core tenets of Bridge to Basics remain the same: Knowledge, Screening, Application Assistance, and Follow-up, to ensure that families are successfully accessing programs that will help them put food on the table and lead healthy lives. During tax season, WithinReach also works with United Way of King County and United Way of Snohomish County to provide application assistance and resources to clients at their tax sites. This partnership is crucial to helping taxpayers receive lasting benefits and services long after tax season ends.

WithinReach is also proud to partner with United Way of King County on Summer Meals, a federal nutrition program that provides free meals and snacks to kids and teens during the summer months. Driven by the fact that far too many kids do not have access to adequate food during the summer months when they are out of school, United Way launched the One Million Meals Campaign in 2013.  They are increasing partnerships and outreach efforts so that more kids around Washington have access to summer meals.

In addition to program work, United Way of King County also led an effort in Olympia this year to pass legislation that would increase participation in school breakfast programs by having high needs schools offering breakfast after the bell.  WithinReach was supportive of this legislative effort, and worked alongside UWKC to further this legislation.  While the bill ultimately did not pass this session, the hearings served to educate legislators about this effective approach to fighting childhood hunger and generated great media attention around the issue. The momentum gained this legislative session will help future efforts around Breakfast after the Bell. This work would not be possible without the support of the United Way of King County, and we are forever grateful for their vision and drive to invest in all of this important work to improve the health and nutrition of children and families.

Tags: Bridge to Basics   food stamps   summer meals   United Way of King County   

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   

Broadening Our View on Food Security For Washington Families

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tags: Food banks   food insecurity   food stamps   Northwest Harvest   SNAP   

Ask the Call Center

Describe a day in the life of a information and referral specialist.

The scope of our day can really vary, but mostly we spend our time talking to callers about the various forms of food and medical assistance they may be eligible for through the state. These include programs such as free medical insurance, food stamps, or WIC vouchers. We are also helping individuals and families begin their application for these programs so that they don’t feel overwhelmed by the process once they hang up. We are reachable by phone, e-mail, and text to get our callers the information that they need.

What was the most interesting call you received in the last month and why?

I recently spoke to a family whose primary source of income was from the military. Because of this, they had assumed that they were not eligible for any form of assistance. The mother originally called looking for food resources, but the call evolved into a discussion about her children. It turns out that she had a special needs child who required specific services that were not completely covered by their insurance. By the end of the call, we were able to determine that she was eligible for free medical coverage through the state that would absorb the additional high cost of seeing specialists that was not covered through her primary insurance.

What is the number one reason that you feel like your work is meaningful?

Understanding state assistance can be very difficult. With our knowledge and experience, we are able to de-mystify these programs to the people that need them the most.  We help by breaking down complicated information and identifying barriers that out callers may be experiencing to accessing public benefits. Many people don’t realize that they are truly eligible for a variety of assistance to help support their families. It is incredibly meaningful to connect someone to assistance that they had perceived as out of their reach.

Tags: call center   food stamps   free medical insurance   WIC vouchers   

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