Speaker 1 00:00:17 Hello and welcome to another episode of just a bite today. We're going to talk about snap with a couple of snap experts from right here in Ohio snap, which stands for the supplemental nutrition assistance program is our nation's first and most important line of defense against hunger right now about one and a half million Ohioans, or more than one in eight people in our state participate in snap to help stretch their household budgets and afford more adequate wholesome foods. But as snap has evolved over its nearly 60 year history, it has been saddled with a lot of administrative burden and red tape. That's where snap and benefits outreach experts like Kam and Katie come in.
Speaker 2 00:01:05 And Katie, thanks so much for being here with us today. I'm so excited to have you on the podcast. Would you mind sharing, first of all, your names, your background and what you, what brought you to this field and this work can, maybe you can start us off.
Speaker 4 00:01:23 Sure. So I'm Kam Mackenzie. I am the staff outreach manager for the Freestore Foodbank. Um, I have been in a snap world now for 16 years. Uh, I started out, um, with Hamilton county job and family services, determined eligibility for SNAP and Medicaid And TANF. And then almost nine years ago, I switched over to the food banking world, um, to start up their SNAP outreach program at the free store.
Speaker 2 00:01:49 How about you Katie?
Speaker 3 00:01:51 Hey, I'm Katie Gedeon. I am the benefits outreach manager at the greater Cleveland food bank. So I actually started off my career in the aging field. And so I worked for the Cleveland department of aging. Um, primarily helping older adults understand what benefits they qualify for. And that sort of moved me into the food insecurity world and seeing how many people were not connected to these benefits. And that's what ultimately led me to my work.
Speaker 2 00:02:21 I love hearing about what draws people into the sector. I know that particularly the work that you all do in the work that your teams do that you lead is not always the easiest work. It can be emotionally exhausting and daunting. And, um, it takes people who have passion for helping people and organizations that have passion for helping people too. So I'm wondering if you could share in your words, why do you think that your food bank believe in snap outreach? Why is this a core part of what your food banks do?
Speaker 4 00:02:56 I know for the free store where we're, um, for the customer connection building it's right in the heart of the city. And so we're surrounded by the most underserved populations where a half a block from a shelter, almost either way that you look, um, we around a large homeless population and, um, seeing the same faces come through over and over again, the talks began to say, well, how, what else can we do except for give out food to be able to assist these clients. And so that's where the public benefit and that snap outreach, um, conversation came into play, like what can we do to help them to sustain themselves when they're not coming to our food pantries? And also knowing that snap gives those individual families, you know, that options to be able to make the best nutritious decisions for their families instead of what comes in an emergency food box. So what we have in our choice pantry, and so being able to help with that part of their dietary needs was a big part of why we moved to, um, implement snap outreach into our food bank.
Speaker 3 00:03:58 Yeah, I think I can really just echo exactly what Kam said. Um, it's crazy because we just celebrated our 10 year anniversary for when we launched our snap outreach program, um, this year. So we've been doing this work for 10 years and I think for the, for the greater Cleveland food bank, it's really as simple as knowing how impactful the program is. Um, when it works, um, we all know that without snap, none of our food banks could meet the need in the community. So it's really just a critical program for us. And like Kam said, it really gives individuals that choice. Um, so them having snap and being able to choose and be able to put food on the table, I really just think it's, um, if that's really a real reason why it's a core part of our operation is just all the great things that it can give to individuals and families.
Speaker 2 00:04:51 Yeah. I mean, it's amazing that both of your food banks have been doing this for a decade or close to a decade. I mean, um, what a ride and it just makes sense. I think I I'm super proud of the food banks here in Ohio. I think that we've been real leaders in this work across the country, recognizing and owning that we could never fill the gaps left by. That would be left, then giant void that would be left without access to federal nutrition programs, especially snap. So thank you for doing that work. And I'm so pleased that at such a core part of what your food banks and others in our state do as part of their work, but I'm wondering, you know, for those that don't work in public benefits, day-to-day why do we need to do this outreach in the first place? If I need help with food, why can't I just get connected to snap and move on with my day?
Speaker 3 00:05:46 Well, that's a great question. I think it comes down to all the challenges we see with people having to navigate these, these systems and we know how much red tape is there. Um, so I think the advocates play such an amazing and pivotal role and hopefully, you know, people give us our credit and I know the community is really thankful to us, but I think without advocates and assisters, like my team and Cannes teams, a lot of people wouldn't be able to access these benefits because of the application process, all of the paperwork that is involved, um, the interview process and just the, um, the red tape, like I said again, and that goes with it, um,
Speaker 2 00:06:32 Like what is, what are all the steps involved, you know, Kam if you're helping and maybe since you were at the county first, like tell us for those that don't know, what steps have to happen for you to ultimately get approved for snap?
Speaker 4 00:06:46 Well, first and foremost, we have to realize that there are a lot of individuals who can't even read and write. And so it was easy to say, well, you just fill out application in person or on online, but that first barrier of not being able to read and write, um, is a hindrance in itself. And so, um, the first part of that process is to either complete an online application, or you can complete a paper application is submitted to your local job of family services, um, which has been difficult because a lot of the buildings are not open due to COVID. Uh, so that's one of the reasons why they need us to do it is because we have not closed since COVID began. And so people are able to still, um, access us freely to be able to assist with that process. Um, once the application is submitted, um, uh, interview will be scheduled by job and family services.
Speaker 4 00:07:36 Um, and this is if everything works smoothly, so that patient now has a 30 day shelf life. Um, and then it gives you time to complete your interview, submit any supporting documents. Um, and then that in that 30 days, that also includes that caseworker working that case to make a disposition of a pool approval or denial. Um, and so those are the big steps, but the in-between steps are, um, transportation to, and from this building to be able to submit applications or documents, um, access to a fax machine, to be able to submit applications or documents, access to your landlord, to get a rent receipt or a lease that you may not have ever signed, that you've been living in the same place for 10 years, um, access to your employer or ex-employer to provide documentation of your work history, because all that is important.
Speaker 4 00:08:27 Um, if this is the first time you're applying, being able to identify all the individuals in your household, having social security cards and birth certificates and that type of thing, and that's in a regular household, right? So if you're taking care of a niece or nephew or a grandchild, being able to provide, um, the documentation that how this person is related to you and that you can legally apply for benefits for that person. So all of those things, and you have to get it done within 30, um, as part of that strenuous process that our clients are facing
Speaker 2 00:09:00 And they're facing it in crisis, right? So people who are applying for the first time for snap are finding themselves in crisis. Um, they may have lost a job, lost wages, find themselves, um, you know, for a myriad of reasons, looking for that help. And now they have to go through all of these steps and hurdles, and I'm so glad that y'all are there to help them navigate those barriers where you can. So I definitely heard you talk about a lot of the different hoops to jump through as far as all the paperwork and verifications, and you pointed out as well important for us to just think about and, and acknowledge that there's major literacy gaps for different, many different reasons. We see that universally as well. Katie, what are some other common reasons that, um, people that you help seek out your help? Can you just shed some light on other reasons why folks might turn to you?
Speaker 3 00:09:55 Yeah, I think, um, I talked a little bit about how I worked in the aging community. And so we have a very large senior population in Cuyahoga county and we see so many older adults that just are not able to complete the application on their own. Um, a lot of technology barriers, um, just not understanding the process and we lose so many people during the interview process. We know that our local job and family services has long whole time since, because so many people are calling in because they need these benefits. And so, um, we have communities who maybe don't have access to phones on a regular basis, maybe have limited minutes on their phones and they cannot take the time out of their schedule, especially if they're working. And so I think for us, that's a major barrier that we see is that most people can complete the application with our help get those, those documents in with our help. But getting that interview done is, uh, is a huge barrier for them.
Speaker 2 00:10:56 And I know Kim alluded earlier to how have those challenges has been exacerbated so much by COVID-19 for lots of different reasons, how it has impacted our individualized and also our access to public agencies. Can you talk a little bit more about what those particular challenges are right now that are maybe unique or different compared to pre pandemic and how you all are creatively helping to address those challenges?
Speaker 4 00:11:25 Sure. Katie mentioned just about the long wait times. Um, so that's one of the biggest challenges that we we had to address is that we, um, a few years ago we created a phone rooms for one person at a time to be able to come in and use our, uh, use the phones to be able to call in their, their interview. And again, we understand it the whole time. Sometimes they're up to three hours and some people don't have a phone or they have limited government minutes on there, assisted phones. And so, um, that was one of the things that we incorporated, but then when COVID hit and the building shut down and a lot of the shelters scale back on their resources for our clients, um, we, um, we had to come up with a different solution. And so we have implemented phone booths.
Speaker 4 00:12:12 So they're set up like little, literally phone booths, um, in our lobby for, um, our clients to be able to come in. Um, it used to be restricted just for snap calls. Um, but we had to extend that because these are people who also need to call the hotline and get into shelters or social security because everybody's buildings are closed right now. And so that was the biggest thing, seeing how many people were coming in because their benefits got shut down because they weren't able to do the recertification interviews for snap or the initial intake interviews for snap. So it's having those communication tools there for them has been so helpful. And, um, it's, I mean, it's spread like wildflowers. We open at eight o'clock. We have a laugh for phones at eight o'clock because we'll know that one, it's a warm and safe place.
Speaker 4 00:13:00 I mean, it's getting warm outside nine, but then the winter, you know, it was a warm and safe place where they can come in and be able to use the phone and still have that privacy. And didn't feel rushed because we understand the whole time. So, you know, we, we let them know, Hey, you may be on phone on the phone for two hours. These, this is what you need to do. These are the questions you need to ask before you say anything, get the person's name. So we're able to kind of coach them through that process. But, um, just having, having those phone books have been really critical to help our clients to be able to, um, to continue in, to do those phone interviews.
Speaker 2 00:13:35 I can picture that, um, that creativity that you had to employ to make that work. And I'm so glad that that's a place that, um, folks in your community have been able to turn to Katie. Can you talk about, do you experience a higher volume of folks that maybe had not heard about snap before, or had never thought before to participate in snap that were impacted by the pandemic and turn to you for help?
Speaker 3 00:14:03 Yeah. I actually never forget when everything shut down and you know, a lot of buildings weren't open, we've been open the entire time, um, throughout the pandemic, we've never closed our offices, any of the community. And so I think for a lot of people who would normally go to job and family services came to us. Um, and so we saw a lot of individuals who lost their jobs, specifically the service industry. We had so many people within the service industry that came to our offices to help, um, apply for app, to help them even navigate the employment system and connect them to pantries and things that they just had never experienced where, uh, we have a really large food distribution that we've been doing every single Thursday since the pandemic started. And so that is when we really saw how many people needed our help that had never come to us before. And we were able to not only connect them to food resources, but connect them to SNAP, um, which is so important and similar to what Kam said, um, because Jeff's offices were closed, we had the same thing where people come in to use our phone. People come into, use our backs and to, for us to scan documents because they just weren't able to go to the JFS offices, um, to do those things. So really it's been important that we stay open for this, for them to have that, that lifeline to get those verifications in.
Speaker 2 00:15:28 And I know that we're all a little bit numb at this 0.2 years into what that felt like early on, but, um, you know, I just want to acknowledge that that was not an easy thing to accept. I mean, at the end of the day, you're every person you're introducing into your space as a worker is exposing you and your teams. And I know that that's a calculation that takes a lot of trade-offs. And so I know that that was a real sacrifice that you all made. So thank you. Um, so kind of on that note, I obviously don't want you to share any personally identifiable information, but would you mind sharing maybe one or two of the community members that you or your team recently helped or, you know, provide recurring services to, um, that you can just help us get a sense of some of the stories and the, and the, um, households that you've touched with your services?
Speaker 4 00:16:25 Um, sure. Uh, one of the things that we've always noticed is that usually our seniors are the, are the last group to want to apply for SNAP. And, um, the pandemic really changed that, uh, we noticed a surge in how many people, 60 plus were calling into our call center about, um, about SNAP in general, just wanting to know usually they're the ones that say no, leave it for the young ladies and the kids. Um, but we saw a lot of our, our older citizens calling in and there was one particular guy he called in, he received our postcard in the mail. Um, but it was actually addressed to whoever used to live in the building before him. Um, but because it's not something you have to open up, he just thought he saw the information and he called and he just, you know, what does the SNAP program, um, do I qualify for it?
Speaker 4 00:17:15 And so we were able to just kind of pre-screen him and talk about, you know, his income and things like that. And, um, he said, well, I'm familiar with a food bank because he lived down in a rural, in a rural county. Um, he said, because they do the proteins drops and we go to the community action agency out there, and there's always that name on the emergency food boxes. And, um, so we explained the process and what that looked like for him. We walked him through it to be able to submit an online application because he is in a smaller county, they kind of get their interviews done a little quicker. Um, it's less people calling in to those county agencies. Um, and so he actually gave us a call back and it wasn't even, I don't think it was even the full seven days.
Speaker 4 00:18:00 He called us back, let us know that, um, someone from that county actually called out to him because of his income. He was able to get expedited services. Um, he was on a fixed income with SSI, lived in a, in a place. He had been almost his whole life. So he didn't have too many outgoing expenses for our shelter, but he had a lot of medical expenses. And so we were able to walk them through that as well on what can be deducted and his SNAP budget because of all the medical expenses that he occurred. And so, um, he called, he let us know he did his interview, that he should have his SNAP card in the mail. He said he would probably call us back to help them activate the SNAP card, which was fine. Um, but he just, you know, he really thanked us for that process because he just did not know, he didn't know where to start, what it will look like.
Speaker 4 00:18:45 Um, um, and he said, not asked every question you told us to ask, you know, if they didn't ask us. And so just being able to give him, you know, just an overview of what that process will look like, the good and the bad, um, and from beginning to end, um, was very helpful for him, for him. And he actually wrote us in like a thank you card, um, about the process. So we have it up in our little SNAP section. Yes. The reminders to sh you know, for us, that what we are doing is impactful to the communities that we serve.
Speaker 2 00:19:14 Absolutely. That's. So that's such a meaningful story for so many reasons. What struck me is you talking about kind of empowering him with the information he needed to understand, because folks listening who don't work again in SNAP often, um, probably don't know, basically there's two different eligibility thresholds. You have to meet to qualify for SNAP. So first year gross income, um, for most households, hats has to be at, or below 130% of the federal poverty level. But then you also have to prove that your net income after expenses is below 100% of the federal poverty level and how far below it is determines what amount of benefit you're going to qualify for. And so helping empower a client like that, to understand that the medical expenses that he's paying out of pocket can impact how much help he can get with in food and helping him know what questions to ask to make sure that's accounted for in his case, and in his determination is just a big deal. Because if you don't know how to advocate for yourself, you don't know what you might not might not know. Right. So thank you for sharing.
Speaker 2 00:20:23 Yeah. Katie, how about you?
Speaker 3 00:20:24 Well, you know, I also have a special spot in my heart for seniors. So, um, those are usually the clients that either I gravitate towards, or they seem to gravitate towards me, um, people at work, the senior whisper. So I think that the biggest thing for me with this client that I have is that when someone has a need with food, we know that they have so many other needs. And so there's so many other things that our teams help with that isn't just about SNAP, but it all sort of goes together and helps clients. But we had a senior client and, um, she was in need of a pen for SNAP, but she had so many other issues. Utilities were being shut off. You know, she didn't have running water. Um, just all of those things that we see and she didn't have a phone.
Speaker 3 00:21:12 So for her, she didn't have a computer. Um, sometimes she would go to the library, but didn't always have access. And so it was really holding her hand through the whole process and having her come into our office to do the interview and call into the job and family services center, because she wasn't able to go do an interview at their offices, um, getting all of her documentation together and also empowering her to know that, you know, you need to know everything that you, that you pay for utilities, medical expenses, to help her get the highest SNAP benefit that she could get. Luckily, everything went well and she was able to get SNAP. And then we were able to make referrals for, you know, utility assistance, get her to her pantry in her neighborhood, get her on home delivered meals, which was great. But I think that when we work with clients who need SNAP, we realize that they need so much more. And so it's always great to be able to have a success story and be able to connect them to those other programs that I know are just as helpful.
Speaker 2 00:22:11 Absolutely great point. Thank you for sharing and emphasizing that this has to be really wraparound work. And I know that both of your food banks are really committed to that and really recognize that food is food insecurity does not happen in a silo. We talked about that all the time. I'm excited also to hear about, you know, you both talking about some of these challenges, older adults have faced and how you've helped them. We do have, um, coming at some point here in Ohio and the elderly simplified application, which was, uh, approved, excuse me, it was recommended, um, in the last state budget, which will help keep those older adults connected to SNAP for longer, with less red tape. So we're always looking for opportunities like that to streamline the process as well, which I know that y'all work on closely too. I'm wondering, um, as we kind of close our conversation today, and you think about all that there is to SNAP and what you do, and then how it supports your clients on the end of using those benefits. If you could wave a magic wand and make SNAP work exactly like you wish it did, what would you change?
Speaker 4 00:23:22 Um, for me, uh, I would change the, almost the entire interview process of it. If there was a way like there's something called the work number where, you know, they, the state can pool, um, the employment information for jobs for major corporations, if that work number, like if every employer had to subscribe to that. Um, cause that is the main thing that keeps people from getting benefits is the verification of income. Um, so if every employer can, you know, be being a part of the work industry would have to register to that. And, um, once that your application went into that system, um, they will be able to answer all the questions that they would about the employment, um, right then and there, I think that will be a huge difference because even if they didn't get all the other supporting documents, um, they will still be able to make a disposition, um, with the income verification.
Speaker 4 00:24:22 And, uh, I think that's, that's huge. So if I can verify your income, but I can't verify your rent, I could still approve your case on that 30th day without the rent verification just might not get the full benefit. I think that will be like awesome to be able to be able to make that disposition with the income verification without the clients have to go through so many Hills. I mean, Dylan, with his it's horrible for our clients. Sometimes they show up to work there's locks on the doors. Uh, they can just review, uh, fill out documentation or send you, um, employment verification letter. So if we, if that employment piece could be fixed, I think that will solve a lot of our client's problems.
Speaker 3 00:25:05 I think I had a magic wand. I'm thinking I'd want to change a lot of things, but being realistic. I think if we could get a, a permanent waiver on the SNAP interview, I think that that would help in a lot of ways. Um, similar to Medicaid that doesn't need a, an interview for it to be approved. I think a lot of people that benefit from the SNAP program, if there wasn't a waiver. I mean, if there wasn't an interview in place, um, that is something that I would definitely use my, my magic wand for,
Speaker 2 00:25:38 Well, we don't have actual magic ones, but we do have power in our voices and our, and certainly your expertise in the field. And, um, for listeners just know that folks like Kam and Katie who do this every day are at the right tables, talking to people and encouraging our policymakers to, you know, understand what's happening on the ground and make these programs, programs like SNAP and others are better for the people they're intended to serve. Um, so really thrilled to have you both today. Do you have any other final thoughts or anything you'd like to share in closing with our listeners?
Speaker 4 00:26:17 Um, I guess my final thought would just be, um, if you are someone that's in need, um, don't be afraid to reach out to agencies that can help you, um, to be able to access these benefits. Um, and if you are someone that is a community champion also, you know, reach out to our agencies to work together. Um, so possibly find solutions, um, about the things that we're seeing, right? It's all about working together and having strong allies in this bill, it is business. And so, uh, whether you're a citizen or your community champion, there's a place for you to have a voice and to be impactful. Um, and so I would just invite you to, um, to meetings or forums or, um, just calling and have a conversations. We have a lot of opportunity sometimes to talk to people in higher positions and we're always looking for community voice. And so if you're a person who will say, you know, the next time you talk to your Senator or your U S rep, I want to be able to be a part of that conversation, let us know. Cause we're always looking for people to give us more insight about what's going on on the ground level. Um, and that's how we make changes. And so that would be my closing.
Speaker 2 00:27:27 Couldn't agree more.
Speaker 3 00:27:29 No, that's perfect. Kam, I would say on top of all of that, um, if you are someone who's never been to a food bank or volunteered at a food bank, or even just, you know, done some research on a food bank, um, just a good day and did it and volunteer because even when I first started working in this, um, food, any there's so much that food banks do that people don't realize, and we do such important more work, and we have such amazing colleagues who are so passionate about what they do. And I really, um, sort of challenge everybody to kind of see what, what food banks do and see what that SNAP outreach process is all about. And, um, give back to your community in any way you can, because right now it's so important. Um, especially as we hopefully move out of this pandemic,
Speaker 2 00:28:26 Thank you both again, for all of your wisdom and expertise and for this incredible conversation. Um, for those that are listening, if you want to get connected to more of the work that the banks like, the free store food bank and the greater Cleveland food bank are doing, you can visit Ohio food banks.org/get help, uh, Ohio food banks.org, and click on get help. And that will help connect you with our SNAP outreach food banks, as well as other resources and other benefits like we've talked about today. Thank you so much for being with us, spread the word about SNAP, and we'll talk to you next time
Speaker 1 00:29:08 And thanks again to Kam and Katie and the frontliners helping keep folks connected to the support they need to survive and thrive. If you want to get connected with their teams, or if you need help with applying for SNAP, you can visit Ohio food banks.org and click get help. And we'll also link to that in our show notes, SNAP has been incredibly important in responding to increase and pervasive food insecurity and food hardship throughout the pandemic. That's what it was designed to do respond during disaster and crisis, whether large scale or personal, if you want a primer on SNAP and the recent update to the thrifty food plan, check out our previous podcast episode on that topic. We're looking forward to advocating for permanent improvements to streamline access to SNAP and help stretch those benefits further for more people last week, USDA, deputy under secretary Stacy Dean shared at the national anti-hunger policy conference, quote, some of the very people who need our programs most don't feel safe or comfortable using them.
Speaker 1 00:30:11 And that's something that we need to change. We want to set up America to thrive and that's at the heart of all that we're doing and will do. So we're really encouraged by that sentiment. And we'll continue to link arms with leaders in this work. And truly the most critical leaders are impacted people, Ohioans using SNAP to feed themselves or their families. We know that temporary increases to SNAP benefits known as emergency allotments will end when the federal public health emergency ends. We are currently looking to complete phone interviews with SNAP participants who are 60 years of age or older to gain more insights about how these increased benefits have helped meet food needs and how the loss of those increased benefits will impact older adults in particular. So we'll be providing $100 gift cards to those older adults that participate in interviews to thank them for their time. If this applies to you or anyone, you know, please check our show notes for a link to the intake form for that survey. And we'll talk to you next time.