The LISP Report


The Big Girl Chronicles:  LISP Report

As single parent and low-income families struggle to make ends meet, many times the assistance of programs that provide services to help manage the household budget and minimize expenses can be a lifesaver.  The Big Girl Chronicles would like to acknowledge those programs and services that consistently provide the assistance promised.   With that in mind, the Low-Income and Single Parent (LISP) Report is an addition to The Big Girl Chronicles that focuses on single parents, low-income families, resources and consumer ratings of programs that cater to them.  The information compiled in this report is based upon consumer experience with the goods/services mentioned therein and is a matter of opinion. 

Quality service should not be considered negotiable regardless of the status of the program participants, especially if those program participants are your target population.  Too often I’ve found that lower- income and single parent households are treated poorly by comparison than those who can afford to pay higher costs for the same goods and services.  Often times, these programs are contracted or subsidized by the government to provide goods and services to lower-income families and should remain accountable to providing quality services.  Also, with so many programs offering comparable services, consumers can feel bombarded with choices.  The Big Girl Chronicles LISP Report hopes to lessen the confusion by assisting low-income single parents in making informed choices.


Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

My household was one of those whose SNAP allotment was cut.  Government cuts across the board in addition to a change in household composition meant a drastic reduction for my household within a few short months with little time to adjust.  And for the first time since receiving government assistance I was left wondering how we would make the ends meet.  Of course, the changes made it necessary to review shopping habits, grocery purchases and meal plans (there's that word again).  Initially it seemed overwhelming.  I wasn't sure how I was going to explain to my children that grocery selections were going to be even more limited, meaning that they would have to pass on a couple of their favorite goodies at the market.  Surprisingly though, I discovered that I hadn't given them nearly enough credit.  They were not only more than understanding about the changes, they jumped right in and began to help decide how we should plan our meals week to week.  What was even more surprising was that the changes they suggested made our eating habits healthier.  We agreed on themes for certain days of the week, like "Meatless Mondays."  I am one who feels as though you can't have a complete meal without meat.  But we can get our protein from other sources like beans that are much more economical, and ante up our intake of veggies with soups and salads.  It's possible that we could take this a step further and consider gardening our own frequently used veggies to minimize costs. What was also surprising was that my children didn't seem to have much concern about managing some of their fave snacks.  Instead of getting every fave at once, we now have them in rotation.  

Like many other Low Income/Single Parents who participate in SNAP, I was disturbed by the cuts.  Then I read where the program costs somewhere around $80 million to manage.  Although there were cuts to our grocery budgets, the program continues to provide free/reduced school meals.  It stings something awful, but what stings the most could be having to exercise more discipline in how we manage the allotment.  Additionally, this is an excellent opportunity to get the household involved so that children can begin to understand early what it takes to manage a household, how what happens in government trickles down and most importantly what issues to pay attention that will influence how we cast our votes.

Click here for information about the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)



Bargain Shopping

Thankfully huge popularity with once taboo shopping destinations like the Salvation Army and GoodWill have made it far less stigmatizing and embarrassing as it once was to be seen at second-hand stores.  A DIY generation has taken frugality and made it chic.  Yes, repurposing furniture and clothing are now the new “IN.”  Have you tried the trend yet?  Take this upcoming school year to explore how much you could save by visiting your local Salvation Army, GoodWill or other bargain boutique to do your back-to-school shopping.  Reserve some time one Saturday afternoon to sift through their inventory.  Although you’ll find some gently used clothing, many times there are never worn items that were donated from some popular stores and brands due to accidents, fires or other mishaps.  While you’re there, ask to speak with their social services department about providing family assistance with back-to-school supplies.  Some have programs that could help if you qualify

Do you have girls that want the latest trends in jewelry?  Some stores that claim to offer trends for discount rates are still too pricey for LISP budgets.  A good way to take advantage of all the savings you can is to sign up with your favorite stores’ rewards program(s).  Depending upon the store, there could be deals on non-sale items, first dibs on clearance sales and other BIO (by invitation only) discounts exclusively for members.  All you have to do is provide your email address to get information about upcoming sales events.  My girls and I watched some of our favorite pieces that were too expensive to purchase even on sale.  With the changes arriving, inventory was discounted to make room for new items.  Not yet, though.  We continued to wait.  A couple weeks later those discounted pieces were placed on clearance with an additional BOGO sale and…BINGO!  Time to buy!  We were able to get a necklace regularly priced $12.99 for $3.99 plus another item of equal or lesser value FREE.  That’s an even better deal than some local dollar stores whose pieces aren’t of the same quality.  Finds like this prove that not every good deal has to come from cheaper stores.  Enjoy!


Bill Payment Assistance

Managing a household with little to no income is challenging.  With expenses like utilities, rent, groceries, clothing and extraneous costs like transportation and occasional school functions towering over you demanding payment, making ends meet from month to month seems mathematically impossible.  The Big Girl Chronicles LISP Report would like to help keep low income and single parent families informed of resources available to get the assistance needed in those difficult times.

No matter how you try to minimize ac/heating usage, you have to pay the costs of comfort during times of extreme heat or cold. Sometimes getting assistance is as easy as asking the utility company for help.  If there isn’t a program that they have available to meet your needs, someone from there is likely knowledgeable about local programs that do offer assistance.  Those programs include places like the Salvation Army, Goodwill, your local community action agency or other public assistance provider.  These programs provide payment for a portion of utilities if not all along with other bills and only require that you in turn participate in activities such as job-readiness training or register with your local unemployment services provider.  Have ready a copy of all your most recent household bills, birth certificates and social security information for all who reside in your household and income verification (including child support payments).

Other things you can do to assist with meeting monthly bill payments includes trimming down your budget.  From one low-income single parent to another, I know you’re likely thinking that’s virtually impossible.  Your budget is likely as constricted as mine.  But should you not be taking advantage of things like coupons and in-kind benefits offered by your local retailers, these are some other areas probably worth considering.  For example if your local retailer or pharmacy is offering a promotion that allows you to earn “in-store cash” with a minimum purchase, plan to shop there if the differences in pricing aren’t too painful and apply the “in-store credit” to other household necessities such as toilet tissue, paper towels, garbage bags, laundry detergent and other expenses that you’d normally have to come out of pocket for.  As expensive as those items can get, that would make a tremendous difference.   

Should there be additional questions you have about bill payment assistance, ask your local department of health and human services if there are other resources for low-income and single parent families.  You can contact them at www.dhs.gov or phone 1-877-696-6775. 






The Big Girl Chronicles:  LISP Report

As single parent and low-income families struggle to make ends meet, many times the assistance of programs that provide services to help manage the household budget and minimize expenses can be a lifesaver.  The Big Girl Chronicles would like to acknowledge those programs and services that consistently provide the assistance promised.   With that in mind, the Low-Income and Single Parent (LISP) Report is an addition to The Big Girl Chronicles that focuses on single parents, low-income families, resources and consumer ratings of programs that cater to them.  The information compiled in this report is based upon consumer experience with the goods/services mentioned therein and is a matter of opinion. 

Quality service should not be considered negotiable regardless of the status of program participants, especially if those program participants are your target population.  Too often I’ve found that lower- income and single parent households are treated poorly by comparison than those who can afford to pay higher costs for the same goods and services.  Often times, these programs are contracted or subsidized by the government to provide goods and services to lower-income families and should remain accountable to providing quality services.  Also, with so many programs offering comparable services, consumers can feel bombarded with choices.  The Big Girl Chronicles LISP Report hopes to lessen the confusion by assisting low-income single parents in making informed choices.

PrePaid and Government Assisted Cellular Service

When the money is tight, reliable cellular service can seem more of an unaffordable luxury rather than a necessity.  However, with so much of the world functioning via technology and the ability to instantly make contact by way of social media and text as well as cell phone, not having access to these services can become an unnecessary obstacle to securing employment, scheduling or availability for other parental responsibilities.  The Big Girl Chronicles has chosen to do a comparison of PrePaid and Government Assisted Cellular Service that is hugely popular and marketed toward low-income households.  Those in review include ReachOut Wireless, Tracfone, Assurance Wireless Lifeline and Net10.

By far, the most generous service provider is Assurance Wireless Lifeline government assisted cellular service.  The plan they offer of 250 anytime minutes was the most minutes offered in comparision with other government assisted cellular programs, with additional minutes available to purchase if needed. Although those minutes do NOT carry over from month to month, the 4 hrs plus are more than enough most months to stay connected without depleting them all.  250 free text are also available with no carry over.  The voicemail feature is also an excellent tool, with thorough call information provided for those times when you can’t get to the phone.  Registration for the program was convenient and hassle-free.  You are only required to meet one of the general requirements of the program to qualify.  Some drawbacks to their service include the basic handset that is provided.  In comparison with other programs and handsets provided, this phone is a dinosaur.  There was no camera, which comes standard on most other phones, to take a picture and assist in identifying/establishing ownership should the handset ever become lost.  Web browsing isn’t an option either, unless you desire to check your balance (minutes available).  Otherwise, you’ll have to pay additional costs.  Upgrades to your existing plan could be made and advertised without extending the offer to you to take advantage of at time of recertification.  So, you’ll have to keep watch of their website to make certain that you’re getting the most your plan has to offer. What’s most important is that coverage is kind of a gamble.  If you have to travel, it could be difficult to catch and maintain a signal.  And unfortunately, there has been some difficulty receiving calls.   Customer Service was difficult to contact, with extensive wait times that count against your available minutes.  So if what you need is minutes, Assurance Wireless Lifeline is the service provider who offers the most.  But that’s about all you’re going to get.  For more information or to see if you qualify, check out their website at AssuranceWireless.com or VirginMobileUSA.com/PayLo.  You can also contact them at 888.898.4888.

If you want to remain discreet about participation in a government assisted cellular service, continue to have access to text (including picture messaging), web service and get pretty reliable coverage, then ReachOut Wireless is definitely your best option.  ReachOut Wireless won’t deny you all the bells and whistles that other service providers restrict, with such options available as downloading customized ringtones, graphics and many other options that most cellular providers offer.  The downloads are subtracted from your minutes though.  Your available minutes are conveniently displayed on your handset to help manage talk time/calls.  You can easily purchase an upgrade in your price range if you don’t like the handset that’s mailed to you from either their website or your local general store.  The handset you receive is more likely to have basic camera capabilities than not.  Registration was quick and easy, with supporting documentation, and they even send you a free Tshirt for participating in their program.   There is the option to “port” an old phone number if available in some instances.  There are several ways to contact customer service, and customer service representatives remained polite and helpful.   With all these options, it would’ve been sheer perfection if ReachOut Wireless had included more minutes in their package.  On the plus side though, your minutes do rollover from month to month.   To find out more, visit ReachoutMobile.com or call 877.870.9444.      

In the world of PrePaid cellular plans, I have found Tracfone to be the Cadillac of prepaid cellular service.  Tracfone wants your business, and this is what they do to keep you a happy customer.  You get several airtime options to suit your budget.  Handsets that are comparable to the latest in technology.  Reliable coverage.  Consistently hassle-free web browsing.   Did I mention reliable coverage?  Consistently hassle-free web browsing?  Activation is simple and convenient.  You have the option to purchase airtime directly from your handset.  Minutes and service end date are conveniently displayed on your chosen handset, however those minutes do not roll over.  There is the option to port an existing phone number.  This is exemplary cellular service that is affordable and reliable.  The only frustration you might incur is long wait times to the call center.  However, their service is of such exception that there won’t be very many times you’ll have to contact customer service.  To get more information about Tracfone visit their website at Tracfone.com or call 800.867.7183.

Net10 prepaid cellular offers fast and easy activation.  Again, there is the option to port an existing number, or select a new one.  There are several plans to meet your needs, and minutes do not roll over.  You have a vast selection of stylish handsets to choose from that offer the latest in technology, with the option to purchase additional airtime directly from your handset.  However, you might not get to take advantage of those options.  The ability to check messages from the handset with the quick key option was constantly defective, routing the call instead directly to LEAVE a voicemail rather than CHECK messages. On the Net10 airtime card is stated “ TALK – TEXT – WEB/EMAIL-411 NATIONWIDE  24/7/365.  However, if you are seeking a service provider that you can rely on for travel, you’re taking a gamble with this one.  More reliable are the frequent error messages you’ll receive if attempting to place a call outside of the “assigned” (nationwide?)area.  Those are in addition to restrictions imposed on web browsing and email indicated on the airtime card that is simply a direct contradiction to what’s stated.   Calls to the customer service call center count against available minutes and can include extensive wait times that can be both frustrating and unproductive.  What’s so ironic about the sharp difference in the quality of service provided by Net10 and that of Tracfone is…THEY’RE OWNED BY THE SAME COMPANY.  When questioned about why that is so, I was told that the problem is the handset and not the service.  The strange thing about that is, I used the same model handset for both.  If you want to play a cruel joke or agitate someone, this is the perfect service to purchase.  But for a single parent needing consistent, reliable coverage, consider other options.   To find out for yourself, visit Net10.com or phone 877-TEN-CENT.

Opting to responsibly manage limited income oftentimes begins with shaving costs from expensive cellular plans that are offered by more popular big businesses and taking advantage of programs such as those mentioned above.  The stress of trying to make ends meet is enough in itself.  What you don’t need is added frustration taking on providers whose service contradicts what is advertised, or doesn’t meet your needs.  Take time to research options thoroughly so that you can make an informed decision about what cellular service is most reliable.  You can review more government assisted cell phone offers and eligibility criteria at freegovernmentcellphones.net.  Chat with you again soon!











The Big Girl Chronicles:  LISP Report

As single parent and low-income families struggle to make ends meet, many times the assistance of programs that provide services to help manage the household budget and minimize expenses can be a lifesaver.  The Big Girl Chronicles would like to acknowledge those programs and services that consistently provide the assistance promised.   With that in mind, the Low-Income and Single Parent (LISP) Report is an addition to The Big Girl Chronicles that focuses on single parents, low-income families, resources and consumer ratings of programs that cater to them.  The information compiled in this report is based upon consumer experience with the goods/services mentioned therein and is a matter of opinion. 

Quality service should not be considered negotiable regardless of the status of program participants, especially if those program participants are your target market.  Too often I’ve found that lower- income and single parent households are treated poorly by comparison than those who can afford to pay higher costs for the same goods and services.  Often times, these programs are contracted or subsidized by the government to provide goods and services to lower-income families and should remain accountable to providing quality and accurate services.  Also, with so many programs offering comparable services, consumers can feel overwhelmed with choices.  The Big Girl Chronicles LISP Report hopes to lessen the confusion by assisting low-income single parents in making informed choices.

Medicaid

Making certain that children’s health is covered during times of unemployment or when managing low income has been made easier through programs such as your state’s health insurance plan for low-income families.  Medicaid ensures that low income parents have the means to continue routine doctor’s visits regardless of ability to pay.  Most services are completely covered, or are provided with only a small co-pay.  No transportation?  No problem.  Medicaid also offers transportation to and from appointments if contacted well in advance.   Should your child ever have an extended stay in the hospital, Medicaid also covers most medical procedures and overnight accommodations.  

During your doctor visit or overnight stay, take the time to make note of each healthcare professional that you speak with.  Include in your notes as much as you can of each and every service that your child has received to compare with the billing statement.  That includes pain killers, sedatives, meals and any other item that could be charged to you.  It could seem tedious and unnecessary initially because you assume that Medicaid has it all covered, but many times there are extraneous costs or inaccurate details that can cause problems for you in the future.  A billing statement that lists costs for services above what Medicaid has agreed to pay will leave you owing a balance that can easily become unmanageable, and unfortunately this occurs more often than you realize.  To guard against this, talk extensively with your doctor about what procedure (s)he is suggesting your child is in need of, making certain that you are made aware of any additional procedure(s) prior to what is suggested.  Then immediately contact those who bill for the services to get an estimate of what you can expect the entire procedure will cost.  It would also be helpful to contact Medicaid yourself to make certain that you are on the same page with the healthcare provider and minimize surprises.  If there is some difficulty managing talks with healthcare professionals and keeping track of daily expenses, ask a relative or friend for assistance.  Review details about the Medicaid program while sitting in waiting rooms or during your down time to reacquaint yourself with the program.

Once your billing statement arrives, do a comparison with your notes.  If you aren’t provided a detailed bill of the procedure(s), service(s)  and the cost(s) involved, you can usually ask the healthcare provider for a detailed bill at no cost.  Any charges that you are unsure of or don’t understand can easily be explained by contacting the billing/accounts department of the healthcare provider.  Listen and jot down notes.  If you owe a balance, make certain you are clear why.  Begin to make arrangements to resolve the balance if outstanding costs are higher than you can afford to pay in one payment.  Should there be any discrepancy, refer to your notes and begin the process to arrive at an understanding.    

Whether it’s Medicaid, Medicare or any other insurance program, mistakes do happen.  Although you could be experiencing a very difficult time trying to comfort your child during an illness, it is imperative that you also keep track of costs.   To find out more information about your state’s Medicaid program or other services for which you may qualify, visit medicaid.gov.









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