By Nichole Pena, Senior Manager, Financial Stability Initiatives, at United Way Suncoast
Before working at United Way on financial stability initiatives, I was an English professor, which means I can talk about your taxes, and I can also quote Geoffrey Chaucer. For me, things have come full circle. What I learned when I was teaching is that it's really difficult for students to focus on their writing, reading, or research projects if they're hungry. I was teaching in a college where 70% of students struggled with food insecurity. In my research writing classes, we were looking at issues of race, class, gender, equity, and inequity. All of these topics led me to really scrutinize what was going on in our communities, and the inequalities that existed. When I had an opportunity to come to United Way to put the work that I was doing in the classroom into practice in another way, it seemed like a natural transition.
I began working at the United Way in January 2019, and I cover three of our five Florida counties: Sarasota, Manatee, and DeSoto. Right now I am wearing multiple hats. We provide financial coaching to the community, help students get aid for college, and assist people with tax season and economic impact payments.
I was not familiar with the FamilyWize program until I came to United Way. I just happened to stumble upon a stack of cards in our office one day and someone explained that they helped people save money on prescriptions. I was really intrigued. When I was later packing up distribution kits for our Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) sites, I put a FamilyWize card in each kit. It also prompted me to begin thinking about other ways we could use them, especially when we see a number of people coming in with Affordable Care Act (ACA) credits, or who were paying the shared responsibility payment or the health insurance penalty last year.
When we trained our volunteers, we took a few minutes to talk about what the cards were, make sure that each volunteer not only had them on the table, but at their station where they were doing taxes so they could provide people with the card. Among various programs and partnerships, we try to spread the word about FamilyWize.
For the fiscal year 2020 (July 2019-June 2020), 57,559 people in our five counties were helped by the FamilyWize card and they saved $3.9 million.
I’ve also used the card myself with our pet. We had a geriatric pet, who unfortunately passed away this last August, but in the two months leading up to her death, we were at the vet at least once a week. We were trying a whole line of medications for her, and this one medication in particular, was $114. So we get the prescription, and as my partner is driving to the pharmacy, I'm tapping into the FamilyWize app, and sure enough, there is a discount available for it. It brought the $114 medication down to about $70, so that was a huge win for our family. By the end, we had 12 different medications that we had our poor pet on, and so being able to use that, in that way, was a big difference maker for us in the quality of care that we were able to provide her before she passed.
I think the FamilyWize card is something that everyone, regardless of whether they have insurance or not, should know about, and at least take a few moments to check in on because some prescriptions are crazy expensive. Any little bit helps families. Forty dollars could be a tank of gas for the week. I would hate to think about the number of people who go without their medication because of cost, so if we can get some savings in there, that's certainly helpful.
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