Access to healthy food starts with a text message
Today’s blog post is brought to you by the Vermont Foodbank’s Senior and Adult Program Manager, Emily Cohen. Emily leads our 3SquaresVT outreach team and is committed to helping more Vermonters access 3SquaresVT benefits to get the healthy food they need.
What do a text message and a healthy meal have in common?
The Vermont Foodbank aims to find out. This year we are launching a new texting tool that will help more Vermonters find out if they may be eligible for 3SquaresVT, which is Vermont’s name for the federal program also known as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). By texting VFBSNAP to 85511 and answering a series of questions, anyone in Vermont can now find out if their household may be eligible.
In 2017, 42 million people across the United States relied on SNAP to access enough healthy food so they would not go hungry. SNAP is our country’s largest program addressing hunger. And here in Vermont, this program makes a huge difference.
But it could be helping even more people. As of November 2017 in Vermont, 75,103 people depended on 3SquaresVT to put enough healthy food on their table. However, according to the US Census as of September 2017, the number of Vermonters at or below 185% of the Federal Poverty Level was 150,197. People with income at or below this level are potentially eligible for 3SquaresVT benefits.
So why this gap? There is a laundry list of reasons as to why people who are eligible might not apply. This list runs the gamut from simply not knowing about the program, to feeling intimidated by a lengthy application process, to inaccurate myths or stigma (see this recent factsheet by Food Research & Action Center to learn more). Of course, there are also any number of immediately pressing life factors that can interrupt our best laid plans to accomplish a task we know will help us out in the long-term.
I’ve been inspired by the Vermonters I’ve encountered over the past few months while assisting them in applying for 3SquaresVT. They show humor, humility, and honesty in their answers and the stories they share. I spoke with a 59 year old logger who had a heart attack and can no longer work. A mother who left an abusive relationship with only a backpack, a bus ticket, and her 2 children in tow. An older woman with a master’s degree and a part-time job. A single-parent who works full time and still finds her monthly income to be under the 185% federal poverty level limit. A college student keeping her head above layers of student loans. A young man caring for his mother. Veterans. People with disabilities. People who are in-between jobs and just need a few months of help to see them through. These people are your neighbors, your grandparents, your friends.
Our hope is that this texting tool will help close the gap between the number of Vermonters who are eligible for 3SquaresVT and the number of people who actually apply. Best of all, this info is available ANY time of the day or night, through the anonymity and privacy of your phone. Our Vermont Foodbank outreach team then follows up to provide additional information and ongoing, personalized guidance in applying to 3SquaresVT. Get started today by texting VFBSNAP to 85511.