When one assistance program doesn’t cover the entire “need”
Earlier this year, I attended the Making Connections 2011 conference at Monroe County Community College. This is a workshop intended for social workers and “front-line” staffers who work at the various government and charity human service agencies in the Monroe County area.
One of the details I picked up on that day is that clients often find that any one particular resource or program won’t cover their family’s entire need.
Here’s an example:
Salvation Army of Monroe County operates a food pantry. Clients must wait 30 days in between visits to the pantry and can participate four times a year (with the exception of bread and other misc. food donations that the agency is able to get above and beyond the regular pantry operations).
And here’s what I wrote my notes that day: the food pantry is supposed to be a supplement, not an individual or family’s only source of food. There are similar rules at many of the other southeast Michigan food pantries.
Therefore, if you are in need, what you want to do is research and access as many resources for your family as possible, in as many directions as possible. This doesn’t have to involve “gaming” the system or breaking the rules. Once you max out your eligibility for one program or resource, move on. There may be others that can help you in a different direction.
Let’s say you live in Monroe County, Mich., and your household income is such that you are eligible for food stamps. Think through this scenario:
- You sign up for food stamps and get the Michigan Bridge Card. This is a public assistance program administered by the state of Michigan.
- In the state of Michigan, families whose children receive food stamps are automatically eligible for free lunches at school. School lunches also are technically public assistance, but it comes from a different direction. There’s no “double dipping” involved. In fact, food stamp families are encouraged to use the lunch program.
- Because you have Michigan Bridge Card, you can participate in the Double Up Bucks produce program at Dundee Farmer’s Market. Under this program, $10 from your Bridge Card turns into $20 worth of produce. This promotion isn’t technically public assistance. Double Up gets much of its support from a variety of private and community foundations.
- You can also use the Michigan Bridge Card to buy some of your groceries from Angel Food Ministries. This isn’t public assistance, either. It’s a discount food purchase program open to anyone of any income level. Food stamps just happens to be one of the ways you can pay for an order.
- And anyone is welcome to go to the Monroe County Library System during library hours and pick through the community coupon swap boxes to find coupons they can use on grocery and health / beauty products. The coupons are sponsored by the food companies. The libraries are hosting the swap boxes as a community service. Yes, you can use coupons at the supermarket when buying groceries with food stamps. In addition to the details I’ve explained on this matter, I personally know someone who has done this.
It is entirely possible, even after all these steps, that there will be an occasional month in which you run out of groceries. That’s where the food pantries can help out.
Now, adapt this lesson to whatever financial hurdle your family has been faced with. Regardless of the circumstances that is throwing off your family budget, you will most likely have to seek out multiple resources and use your own initiative to complete the picture.
Another case study for a totally different problem involves college funding. Many parents and students think grants are the only “real” financial assistance because it’s free money should the family be eligible. The reality is many students also have to include scholarships, work-study and low-cost student loans to fill in the gaps. The college financing system does consider those programs to be financial assistance.
The Do you need assistance? Tips to read first section on this blog has links and tips on how to find community resources in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio, and get through the application process with as little hassle as possible.