Sep 9, 2020

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Lived Experience: SNAP helps hard-working mom bring food to the table

by | Sep 9, 2020

Editor’s note: This vignette is part of the Lived Experience series, which highlights how Coloradans benefit from advocacy efforts led by CCLP and its partners.

Being a pre-school teacher is arguably one of the most essential and demanding jobs to perform during a global pandemic. For Margarita, her job as a preschool teacher is made even more challenging by difficulties associated with accessing affordable, nutritious food for herself and her family.

Fortunately, some of Margarita’s challenges are defrayed by a small benefit from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP), which ensures that families and individuals with extremely limited resources can obtain some extra cash for groceries.

“It’s hard, because I have three at home and I get $168 [in one month from SNAP],” Margarita says. “That’s not even what I spend on groceries, you know? … My income is not great. And I sometimes have to work [extra] afternoons or do something on the side just to be able to make ends meet for me at home with them [her kids].”

Margarita is a U.S. citizen and immigrant from Michoacán, Mexico. She currently resides in Montrose, where she cares for an 18-year-old son and 12-year-old daughter. Through her job as a preschool teacher, Margarita has spent the past several months navigating new ways to teach her students and looking for opportunities to ensure that she can earn a sufficient income. “We did video Zoom with them [her students] sometimes, but they want to show me their rooms and their toys … they don’t care for us just singing the ABC’s or anything,” Margarita says and laughs. “They’re a little bit harder.”

Getting by with minimal resources
Margarita is one of many Coloradans across the state experiencing food insecurity.

“I am enrolled in the SNAP program, because my income is very low, and I have my two kids and they’re both going to school,” she says. “It’s hard when they give you just a minimum. And I feel like sometimes they don’t really pay attention to how much actually kids eat, or how much we need, you know? Because what I get, I feel like I can just make enough money for maybe a week or two.”

It is especially difficult for Margarita to afford nutritious, fresh foods to keep herself and her family healthy. “I can probably spend $100 just on vegetables and then I won’t get the rest for anything,” she says. “I think it’s really important for my kids to be eating well and to be able to focus at school, but I can’t provide that sometimes. I’m just like, ‘OK here’s eggs again,’ that’s all we have right now.”

Since Margarita’s son recently turned 18, her SNAP benefit was decreased by around $100. “He’s still with me, [and] you cut me $100,” she states. “It’s a little bit frustrating because we need the help and it’s not enough … the grocery prices go up instead of down. I think for me as a single mom it’s been a struggle.”

Despite the low amount that Margarita receives in benefits, she says she feels blessed to be enrolled in SNAP. One out of every 11 Coloradans struggles with food insecurity, yet, of Colorado’s eligible SNAP population, only about 60 percent are enrolled. In addition to losses in federal funding, this limited enrollment makes it difficult for individuals and families to access affordable and nutritious food in order to stay healthy and achieve their goals.

“Access to nutritious food is one of the social determinants of health,” said Sara Lipowitz, Public Benefits Attorney for CCLP. “SNAP benefits may not be a large amount, but in families experiencing poverty, every dollar is crucial. Additional money for food also frees up money in the family budget for other important expenses, such as transportation, rent, and utilities.”

CCLP works to maximize SNAP enrollment and expand access to food through community programs and organizations. Additionally, CCLP proposes policies and meets regularly with the Department of Human Services to make it easier for Coloradans to access essential SNAP benefits.

From recipient to advocate
Within her own community, Margarita has noticed limited SNAP enrollment among eligible families. Knowing this, she uses her own lived experience to act as a valuable resource and advocate for greater access and enrollment in the SNAP program. In addition to encouraging people to apply for SNAP, she helps guide community members through the application process itself.

“I have helped people fill out applications [for SNAP] that don’t understand, and they don’t know that because they’re not residents or citizens they can still get the help for their kids,” she says. “[With] the kind of community that I’ve worked with; Hispanic communities, sometimes there’s people that don’t even know that there’s help out there, and the first thing they ask — it’s sad to say — is  ‘do I have to have a Social [Security number]?’… I don’t feel like they understand what they need to be able to qualify with. That’s what they fear.”

When asked about the one thing she wants readers to come away with regarding SNAP, Margarita stressed that people must “not to be scared to ask … Just because you ask for that extra help doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person, or [that] you’re not doing your part for your community. Sometimes people get scared to ask, and that’s really important for people not to fear or feel embarrassed … I work at a school district and I still need help. I still need help and I feel blessed because I do get what I get, but sometimes I need a little bit extra.”

Margarita was connected with CCLP with the help of Abbie Brewer through Housing Resources of Western Colorado (HRWC). For 42 years, HRWC has been working to provide stable and sustainable housing and services to those in need across Western Colorado. HRWC offers affordable rentals, housing rehabilitation loan programs, homeownership education and programs, one-on-one counseling and coaching, and more. Learn more at https://www.hrwco.org/

-By Andra Metcalfe

Recent articles

HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.