The Coalition hosted a Public Benefits 101 Workshop on Tuesday, December 10 as part of our on-going series of Case Manager Trainings. Over 90 direct service providers joined us for a three-hour training covering the basics of public assistance programs offered by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS). Thank you to presenters Sara Robbins and Katie Scott from the Solid Ground Legal Benefits Assistance Program who led the training and shared their knowledge and passion with the room. A brief summary of the programs covered below.
The workshop began with an overview of cash programs administered by the state. The Aged, Blind and Disabled program (ABD) and Housing and Essential Needs Program (HEN) are the primary cash benefits available for single adults without children. Formerly called Disability Lifeline, ABD provides $197/month to adults with a disability who do not receive significant income from work or another public benefit program. HEN has similar eligibility requirements but does not result in a direct cash payment. Details differ by region, but the primary benefits consist of a rental payment voucher and case management services. Visit Washington Connection to see if you or your client may be eligible to apply for cash assistance.
For families, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) is the primary cash assistance program available. TANF has a work requirement called WorkFirst that mandates TANF recipients be looking for work or be enrolled in some sort of job training program. Clients are required to sign off on an Individual Responsible Plan (IRP), failure to meet this requirement can result in a reduced or terminated award. The presenters stressed to the room that case managers should request copies of their clients IRPs and review them closely, noting they have found success in reinstating benefits when they can point to unreasonable or inconsistent items in the plans. Katie also shared that WorkFirst can provide additional financial resources to those on TANF looking for employment help, but that this can be difficult to access. There is a support services directory that outlines what this entails, she encouraged the room to tell clients to print out a copy to bring with them when requesting assistance.
The most widely used DSHS program is EBT food benefits, as confirmed by the 67 attendees who completed our pre-workshop survey. This benefit scales based on income; an average food stamp award offers around $125/month. Check out this benefit calculator to see how much you or your client may be able to claim in food benefits. The presenters stressed that there is no minimum age requirement for food assistance, meaning that minor children not living with their parents can apply and receive benefits. Presenters encouraged case managers working with youth denied food assistance to refer cases to their program.
Working Connections Childcare program (WCCC) provides a subsidy for daycare that is paid directly to the provider. Families qualify either through enrollment in Workfirst or based on income, and homeless families who qualify for neither can still receive services through a homeless grace period. The grace period currently lasts four months, partial months count towards the total and childcare providers are hesitant to accept payment due to these restrictions.
Fortunately, there is help for families in need of assistance. We were joined by Alexandria Barbaria and Norma Renteria Lobo from Child Care Resources who shared information on their program that helps families navigate the childcare system. Childcare Resources helps families experiencing homelessness in King and Pierce county apply for WCCC and can assist in finding childcare providers. They have also been active in advocacy efforts around expanding the homeless grace period, an effort they plan to take into the 2020 legislative session starting in January.
DSHS offers an appeal process to those who have had any of the above benefits reduced or terminated. If you or someone you work with has an issue with their benefits and wants to understand their legal options, reach out to the following for more information.
Solid Ground Public Benefits Legal Assistance Program provides legal help and information to single adults and families whose public benefits have been reduced, terminated or denied. Call 206-694-6792 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
The Northwest Justice Project provides low cost assistance to those involved with non-criminal legal problems including public benefit disputes. For a free screening call 2-1-1 or fill out an online referral form at nwjustice.org/apply-online
Washington Law Help: Online directory of civil legal information.