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Congresswoman Suzan DelBene visits LWIT, fights for nutrition assistance funding
At 50 years old, Chris Doty of Bothell faced homelessness.
Once a successful plumber of 30 years, Doty, like many others during the recession, found himself laid off with the fear of losing his house, car and “everything that normal people have.”
“I found myself not being able to support myself and for the first time in my life and I was scared,” Doty said. “I ended up losing my family. I lost my house. I lost my car and I was homeless for a while.”
But he didn’t know what else he could do, the construction industry had taken a hit.
That is, until he walked through Lake Washington Institute of Technology’s doors.
“I thought there might be an outside chance I could get a loan or something but I had no idea all this stuff was offered to me,” Doty said, who is now enrolled as a multimedia design and production student. “It was just incredible.”
That “stuff” is encompassed in the Basic Food, Employment and Training program, or BFET.
BFET is a federally funded program designed to support students who are receiving food stamps. The partnership with YWCA and DSHS allows students, who are not participating in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, an avenue to get the education needed for a career.
Students who enroll in BFET can receive benefits that may include money for books, childcare assistance, eligibility for food stamps, personal support, career planning and more.
The program is currently offered at many Washington colleges and vocational schools.
It’s this model that Congresswoman Suzan DelBene is working hard to implement nationwide through the Farm Bill this month, despite the many controversial funding cuts currently on the table.
“I have in the Farm bill right now, in the version that passed the House, an expansion of this program in other states across the country because Washington’s program has been so successful,” DelBene said at a roundtable meeting with LWIT students and officials on Nov. 26.
As a member of the conference committee working on the Farm Bill, DelBene is one of the leading members in Congress working to negotiate a final Farm Bill before the end of the year.
However, funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which provides food stamps, is a controversial portion of the Farm Bill.
Currently, the House version of the bill calls on $39 billion in cuts to the nutrition assistance program during the next 10 years.
But earlier this year, DelBene amended the House-passed Farm Bill to include a three year, $30 million competitive grant fund to encourage states to provide targeted employment and training programs similar to Washington State’s BFET program.
It is this aspect among many others that she’ll be advocating for.
“I think it’s really important to remember that these investments that we make not only have an incredible impact on peoples lives and their families, but an incredible impact on the economy,” DelBene said.
Others like Doty not only have a newfound career to work toward during hard times but have a newfound confidence as well.
When Nova Beckwith dropped out of seventh grade and was a runaway for nearly all of her teenage life, it wasn’t until she was 24 years old that she could take control and enroll herself in the BFET program.
“My tool list for class is very extensive and every quarter they have been helping me out with some money to help get the tools I need for school and the tools I’ll need after I graduate,” said Beckwith, who is studying the dynamics of motorcycle, marine and power equipment. “… BFET and worker retraining has really kind of taken my hand and guided me through how to reach my goals, how to talk to people, how to find what I need to find, how to be resourceful and the end goal is the job. Not just a job, but a career, something that isn’t 7-Eleven or Taco Bell.”
Demetra Biros, the Director of Workforce Development and Employment Services at LWIT, said BFET is also for people who might not have qualified for food stamps or welfare benefits but aren’t quite to the point of self sufficiency yet. BFET is also available for those who need their GED or for people who may need more help with the English language.
“The fact is most people don’t have the goal of being on public assistance forever,” Biros said. “They really don’t want to do that but until BFET came around, there wasn’t a lot of support for people to get out of poverty.”
And with the YWCA and DSHS partnership, people can get individual “wrap-around” support.
A mom of two who lost her job, Lynn Treadway Cox, relies on gas cards provided by BFET in addition to book assistance.
“They even paid for one quarter of tuition because I hadn’t qualified for (federal student aid) FAFSA yet,” she said.
At 52, Treadway Cox got her GED and enrolled herself in the social human services program so that she could help runaway teenage girls.
“They need to know that even though they’ve had problems in their families or drugs, that you can come out of that and finish your education and make something of yourself,” Treadway Cox said, who is currently doing an internship at Friends of Youth. “I want to be a role model.”
BFET has helped more than 45,000 people receiving food stamps since 2005.
For more information how to join the BFET program at LWIT, visit www.lwtech.edu/bfet.
From left, students Lynn Treadway Cox, Nova Beckwith, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene and student Chris Doty pose for a photo at Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Treadway Cox, Beckwith and Doty are currently enrolled in the school's BFET program. RAECHEL DAWSON/KIRKLAND REPORTER