Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Fuel assistance is getting harder to get

Don't get me wrong, I'm grateful for the fuel assistance program, but at this point it's almost becoming a hazing ritual.

We're having the same problem we've had in past years where they don't seem to understand that people in our household have per diem jobs where we might go several weeks or more without any work from that job. Someone in our household works in the arts and will get paid by a particular employer sometimes one or two times, or sometimes for a string of several weeks but then not again. The employers are often one person, who doesn't appreciate writing a letter stating you don't work there every couple months when trying to apply for something. Or the jobs are through a friend of a friend, and you can't even track down the company that sent the stack of checks to the gig with the person who pulled together the artists. ABCD and DTA and Masshealth and all of them of course don't get this, and say to call the HR department. What HR department? The "business" is one guy who put on an event once. You'd think they'd realize they're dealing with poor people. We often have weird and inconsistent employment. We're honest and we save everything and we file our taxes correctly, with the dozens of W-2s and all. Any reason these places can't accept tax forms instead of paystubs? They need to harass us to properly document a few hundred dollars from somewhere -- which we're being honest and telling them happened -- when you know they have applicants who make much more under the table.

In addition to that problem, they seem to have some new requirements. Now, instead of just submitting your Schedule C for self-employment, they want you to request a transcript from the IRS and send that, except they don't tell you that until they deny you for sending the normal copy of the Schedule C.

They also want proof that one young member of the household is a citizen. They haven't needed this in past years for this person or anyone else. I have to order a copy of that person's birth certificate, unless anyone knows a better way to prove citizenship for a child.

Is it even worth it for the $400 or whatever? I'm thinking I might just find something to sell on eBay to pay for fuel this winter instead.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Cooking with WIC stuff

Since we are once again on WIC, I thought I'd start posting some recipes that can be made with entirely or mostly WIC ingredients. I've talked about chili before and how cheaply it can be made. It can also be made almost entirely out of WIC ingredients, plus cheap spices.

From WIC package:
  • beans
  • onions and/or garlic
  • canned or fresh tomatoes
  • zucchini, bell peppers, corn, or other veggies if desired
  • hot peppers (fresh, from produce department)
These WIC ingredients, plus a few cents worth of salt and pepper, will make a vat of chili to feed your family for days. It freezes well too. If you have the cooking facilities and cooking skills, get the dried beans instead of the canned beans, because it's a lot more beans. A whole bag of dried beans pretty much fills a large crock pot or large soup pot.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Masshealth is discontinuing the premium assistance program. Act now if you want free private insurance.

If you don't already know about the Masshealth premium assistance program, it's a program where Masshealth will buy children a private insurance plan. There is a brochure here that gives the basics.

Apparently they are discontinuing the program as of Dec 31 this year, which is unfortunate. They will continue to pay for plans indefinitely for people who are already participating or who enroll before Dec 31. It's convenient that right now is open enrollment for Blue Cross Blue Shield. (I don't know about other private insurance plans; Google is your friend). So, if you have Masshealth and you want private insurance for your child, here's what to do:

1. Call 1-800-422-3545, the Blue Cross Blue Shield of MA sales department. You can't buy a child-only policy online. Tell them you would like quotes for a child-only policy. If you have multiple children, explain that you need individual child-only policies, because Masshealth is paying. They will tell you you need a family plan. Insist on separate child-only quotes. Tell them you need a plan under $349 per month.* You will need to tell them your child's name, date of birth, and address. If you want to be able to use providers who are "out of network" (like, if you want to get reimbursed for therapies from therapists who don't bill insurance directly), ask for quotes for PPO plans. Otherwise, ask for the HMO and PPO plans and look them over and see what you prefer.

2. They will e-mail you a quote within a matter of minutes. Send that quote, along with your child's Masshealth number, to Lekecia.Powell-Watkins@umassmed.edu and state that you would like to see if your child is eligible for premium assistance. She generally does not call back or e-mail back, though if there is a problem or you do need to speak to her about something, she is very nice and very knowledgeable.

3. You will receive a letter from Masshealth within a few days saying you are eligible. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts will either mail you a check for the premium each month, or will direct deposit it if you have a direct deposit account on file because you receive other payments from them.

4. Enroll your child in the BCBS plan right away by sending all the necessary paperwork to the address on the forms that were included with the quote.

5. Note: Every December you will receive an odd form letter addressed to you (whoever enrolled the child and is receiving the payments), asking you to verify that your employee, [your own name], is still receiving health insurance benefits. They're actually asking you to verify that you are still paying for the BCBS plan for your child, and you'll need to send them your current contract with BCBS, or a bill, or whatever you have. I called them and was confused the first time I received this, and they said it's the same letter they use when Masshealth is reimbursing someone for insurance through their job. Right.

*If your child is certified by Masshealth as having a disability, which I believe means they receive SSI, the benefit amount will be higher, which means you could get a more expensive plan. In this case you should call 1-800-862-4840 and ask them to check and see what your child's eligibility is. If you haven't applied for SSI because your income is too much or child gets different disability benefits, you can do what we do and just go with the $349; I believe there is a process for getting your child certified as having a disability, but I'm sure you couldn't get it done by December 31.