January 23, 2019

By WithinReach AmeriCorps

Meeting Students Where They Need Us: A Quick Guide to Benefits Hub

According to The Seattle Times,Seattle has the greatest number of college students living below the poverty line out of the 50 largest U.S. cities. With the additional strain of financial burdens, these disadvantaged students are less likely to complete their post-secondary education, a degree that has proven to pave the way out of poverty.

Aiming to address non-academic barriers that low-income students face, United Way of King County (UWKC) launched Benefits Hub in 2016. This program creates a coordinated one-stop center for students to receive financial guidance and assistance from specifically trained AmeriCorps service members. Since the program’s pilot years, Benefits Hub has expanded to six community college campuses throughout King County. This year, WithinReach has partnered with UWKC to amplify the types of benefits that students can access. While UWKC AmeriCorps focus on financially coaching students, WithinReach AmeriCorps connect students to public benefits like food stamps, health insurance, and subsidized bus passes. Through Benefits Hub, WithinReach and UWKC work synergistically toward their common goals: to improve student outcomes and strengthen the community for a healthier, more equitable future. 

Shadai and Emily are WithinReach AmeriCorps members serving as Outreach and Enrollment Specialists. In this role, they help community members sign up for public benefits and connect them to other food and health resources. As part of Benefits Hub, they visit several college campuses on a weekly basis to connect with students where they are, and help them navigate these resources. In case you, or someone you know are interested in learning more about or getting connected with Benefits Hub, here is a list of our most frequently asked questions:

Where is Benefits Hub located?

E: Benefits Hub is currently available to students at the following campuses:

  • Bellevue College
  • Green River College
  • Highline College
  • Seattle Central College
  • Shoreline Community College
  • South Seattle College
  • UW Bothell/Cascadia College

What does Benefits Hub offer?

S: Through Benefits Hub, students can get emergency financial grants, financial education and assistance, emergency food and housing resources, and access to public benefits, which WithinReach AmeriCorps handles. The UWKC AmeriCorps, direct service and VISTA members, are always on campus. Students can drop-in during Benefits Hub hours or schedule an appointment. Having a centralized location for resources and benefits is essential because the students know that they can go to one specific place to explore different opportunities. Benefits Hub can eliminate the sometimes overwhelming research for students.

For example, at UW Bothell/Cascadia College, Benefits Hub is available to students from both campuses and is located in the Health and Wellness Resource Center (HaWRC) in the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on the UW Bothell side. Since Benefits Hub is in one centralized location, students can stop in knowing that we’ll always be there and able to meet with them one-on-one, if they prefer a more private setting.

What are the resources that students are looking for most?

E: Most often, students are looking for additional food resources such as SNAP (called Basic Food in Washington). However there are very specific “student” requirements in order to be eligible, so many students don’t qualify. In those cases, we provide them with additional information on food banks in the area. To me, the frequency at which I talk to students looking for food assistance illuminates the trend of growing food insecurity on college campuses.

I also see many students looking for housing assistance. Of course, this is not a need specific to only college students. But, a lack of stable housing puts a huge stress–financially and mentally–on students trying to earn their degrees and support their families. While we aren’t experts in housing assistance, we try to refer clients to agencies and other offices on campus that could help with housing more specifically.

What are the obstacles to reaching students?

S: Benefits Hub has only been around for two years and was just added to UW Bothell/Cascadia College this year and to Green River and Bellevue College last year. Since it’s still relatively new, many students are unaware that Benefits Hub exists and that it’s an opportunity to explore potential resources. I think that over time and with further promotion around campuses, Benefits Hub will become more familiar to students. We are working together to adapt to the needs of students and brainstorm creative ways to connect with them. Recently, we’ve spread out and have been promoting the Benefits Hub in various UW Bothell and Cascadia buildings to get the word out about the program.

Also, the reality is that we’re not entirely sure where every student is in their day. Some students just don’t have the time to stop in and discuss their situations. They have to juggle classes, work, and/or have families to take care of, on top of trying to access these resources.

Who is eligible for help from the Benefits Hub?

E: For now, Benefits Hub on college campuses are typically for students and their families. However, free tax prep and other Benefits Hub resources will be open to the community from January 15th through April 19th.

How can I access services?

S: To make an appointment and learn more about the Benefits Hub services, click here.

Additional Information

Student food insecurity:“The hidden crisis on college campuses: Many Students don’t have enough to eat“ by Caitlin Dewey

About WithinReach

About United Way King County: