Spokane Journal of Business

SNAP finding ways to tap interlinked areas of need

Organization offers more than 30 programs here

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-—Treva Lind
Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners CEO Julie Honekamp says the organization has an annual budget of about $24 million, about half of which is government funding.

For decades, Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners has helped people establish stability and self-reliance.

Today, more than 30 SNAP programs support Spokane County and Eastern Washington residents. Broader than many people realize, those services range from preventing home foreclosures to supporting small businesses.

“Most people think SNAP is energy assistance, but the good news about that is, that gets them in our doors,” says Julie Honekamp, CEO of SNAP. “From there, we get to have a conversation with them about broader needs, ask, ‘What are your goals?’ Do you want to start a business? Do you have needs in your home? We look at the whole person.”

SNAP works as its own general contractor sending weatherization crews to homes year-round. The agency’s energy-saving upgrades help low-income households and can enable seniors to stay in their residences longer. 

Additionally, SNAP educates first-time home buyers, provides advocacy for seniors in assisted-living centers, offers utility bill assistance for low-income residents, performs home repairs and constructs wheelchair ramps, and offers homeless services. Other services include money-management classes, financial coaching, and support to raise a credit score. Lending programs can help income-qualifying individuals. 

Meanwhile, the agency remains flexible as community needs arise, Honekamp says. 

After Spokane’s November 2015 windstorm, SNAP fielded hundreds of calls from residents, coordinated the pickup of gasoline for generators, and provided tarps and cords of wood. SNAP and the city of Spokane collaborated to help with frozen pipe repair, pilot light relighting for heat or hot water tanks, minor roof and broken window fixes, and removal of branches for access.

Responding to a separate city need, SNAP started a pilot Ride to Care program in January to reduce unnecessary emergency room visits and high costs. Some people don’t have transportation, aren’t aware of urgent care, or want reassurance. When emergency workers determine that a 911 call doesn’t require ER care, such as a sprained ankle, then the patient is offered Ride to Care. 

Funded by multiple health plan providers, the program enables recipients to receive free transportation to an urgent-care facility, involving partnerships with CHAS and Providence Health & Services. The program also will take passengers to a pharmacy and back home. 

“Our plan is to expand to the Valley; it’s just been in the city,” Honekamp says.

In 2016, SNAP programs served 47,421 people overall, which is an unduplicated number and up from 41,368 people assisted the year prior. Last year, the agency says, it prevented 204 home foreclosures, and in 2015, it saved 284 homes. Along with volunteers, SNAP has about 150 employees in six locations, including at SNAP Mission Support Center headquarters, at 3102 W. Fort George Wright Drive.

With an annual budget of about $24 million, government funding makes up nearly half of its income from local, county, and state entities. Client fees, in-kind support, and matching programs bring in dollars along with public and private support that includes a utility tariff rider that Avista customers pay as part of their bills toward energy assistance to low-income residents. Also, SNAP has about 400 units of affordable housing that brings in rents.

Funding complexities and potential income losses from government sources remain an ongoing concern, Honekamp says. The agency has fundraising efforts as well. 

SNAP’s long history as a community action organization dates back to a 1965 federal push known as the “war on poverty.” In 1966, then Catholic Charities director Father Frank Bach helped launch neighborhood centers in the East Central, West Central, and Hillyard neighborhoods. They provided the foundation for what would become SNAP, first called Spokane Community Action Agency.

By 1985, the agency had grown beyond the scope of Catholic Charities, so it became an independent nonprofit. Programs today serve Spokane County, but some programs reach across Eastern Washington, such as the SNAP Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program with more than 40 volunteers to advocate for residents of assisted-living centers and group homes.

SNAP became Spokane Neighborhood Action Programs in 1991, then Spokane Neighborhood Action Partners in 2008 to reflect its collaboration with other Spokane support agencies, such as food banks and legal services seeking to help people gain stability. Core values of community, justice, and respect remain central, and daily success stories tell of people who open businesses, find affordable housing, remain in a repaired home, or raise their credit scores, says Craig Howard, a SNAP spokesman.

“A lot of people just need a chance and support system to embrace them,” Howard says.

Honekamp adds, “When you serve one in 10 from our region, a week won’t go by without someone coming up to me to say we helped them. Sometimes, it’s in very small and temporary ways that just happen at a critical time.”

Many Spokane households still need assistance after the Great Recession, says Chris Pasterz, director of SNAP’s Financial Stability Services. 

“We’re seeing a steady number of foreclosures, and we’re still anticipating about 250 homes a year,” Pasterz says.

He adds that helping people build credit remains crucial, because low credit scores can affect getting a job or finding housing. The agency can issue a secure credit card for people to build credit along with counseling, and SNAP works with about five banks and credit unions to assist people. SNAP’s credit counseling work has helped people go from a credit score of zero to the low 700s in a year.

A credit score isn’t considered legitimate until it reaches 640, Pasterz says, and is considered low risk in the 700s. 

“They don’t even know about it until they start coming to our classes, and their life opens up,” he says.

Additionally, SNAP provides free business development services. In 2016, it helped start, expand, or financially enhance 104 small businesses. Partnering with the Small Business Administration, SNAP operates the Women’s Business Center helping about 700 people a year with training and support. 

“It’s also open to men,” Pasterz says. Technical assistance includes help developing a business plan, accounting system, and startup knowledge. He credits the agency’s experienced counselors, who work at SNAP after careers as former bankers, lenders, and business owners.

To receive counseling on housing, credit, and businesses, SNAP doesn’t have income thresholds, Pasterz says. Lending options have certain requirements, supporting people who are at 80 percent or less of area median income, about $51,000 for household of four.

SNAP also assists people with Refugee Individual Development Accounts, a matched savings program for working refugees to set aside money for designated first-time financial goals. Other support includes refuge lending pools and technical assistance through translators. 

Meanwhile, SNAP coordinates homeless assessments for the housing needs of single people or couples without children. In 2016, SNAP provided affordable housing to 878 people, including many young individuals ages 18 to 24. 

Over the years, one change Honekamp has noticed is how SNAP now takes a broader view of helping individuals than it did in the past.

“We’re looking at people holistically, rather than at silos of different needs,” she says. “What do we need to do to make the whole person successful? I think that’s one thing that’s shifting to the good.”

Treva Lind
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