By Spring 2010, the state Department of Social and Health Services expects to "roll out" a new effort aimed at providing remote communities with greater access to its core services.
The mobile community services office - a fully customized bus - will provide direct outreach to under-served communities, such as rural and elderly populations, by traveling to places where it has been difficult to get information and support.
The bus will be equipped with all of the amenities found in any of the 62 stationary community service offices across the state. The bus will include private interview rooms, and will be staffed to take applications, determine eligibility and provide eligible households with public assistance benefits for programs, including Washington's food assistance program.
The mobile office will also operate as a response vehicle during disasters and severe weather events to accept applications and issue emergency benefits.
The economic downturn is affecting individuals, families and communities across the state and DSHS says it has seen a significant increase in demand for services.
In the 12-month period of June 2008 to June 2009, the number of individuals and families receiving basic food benefits grew from about 299,000 households per month to more than 402,000 after the state expanded the number of households that are eligible.
Currently the basic food program brings about $100 million in federal food assistance benefits into state and local economies each month, helping more than 800,000 people put food on the table.
However, DSHS estimates indicate there are at least 156,000 additional income-eligible people still not accessing this vital nutrition assistance program.
Recently, DSHS was awarded a $200,000 grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to help fund the mobile office. Additionally, DSHS will seek matching funds from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, administered by the U. S. Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Services.
"We are committed to strengthening and stabilizing communities in the Pacific Northwest, especially in these difficult economic times," said Anne Xuan Clark, program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
For more information about DSHS offices or services and to apply for benefits, visit: https://fortress.wa.gov/dshs/f2ws03esaapps/onlinecso/cover.asp.