Family Checkbook: Finding and using valuable resources
By Kathy Sweedler
As we move through our lives, different challenges and needs tend rise. In my own family, our needs have changed over time.
When I had young children, I was concerned with finding quality child care and used clothing and toys. As family members aged, we needed home delivery of meals, medical care support and transportation services.
Sometimes we can handle these challenges with our own resources, and sometimes community resources are helpful. And, it's not until a specific, personal need comes up that you tend to ask, "Who do I call to get help with (fill in the blank)."
Luckily, we have a local resource that can help: 2-1-1. When you call 2-1-1, you reach a knowledgeable specialist 24/7 who can help you find services in your local community. The people you talk to at 2-1-1 don't provide these services, but they can point you to the people and organizations that do.
Call 2-1-1 to find out about the following types of services:
— Basic human needs like food banks, rent and utility assistance.
— Physical and mental health resources such as counseling, drug intervention and health insurance programs.
— Employment support, including job training.
— Support for older people and persons with a disability such as home health care and transportation.
— Support for children and families, including child care and tutoring programs.
All calls to 2-1-1 are free, anonymous and confidential. If you'd like to search the 2-1-1 database for programs, visit referweb.net/Path/. Services listed here are for those in central Illinois.
Along with local community resources, you or others in your family may benefit from federal government resources. The government provides assistance through benefit programs that serve important purposes, such as job training, nutritional assistance, education, health care and other needs.
Have you ever wondered just which federal benefits you may qualify for? Check outbenefits.gov/, a great resource. Once at the website, using the Benefit Tracker, you enter basic information about yourself as well as what type of services you're interested in. Then you answer more specific questions so that a targeted list of resources can be prepared for you. With this customized list, you can access many useful informational resources and explore your possible eligibility for federal benefits.
U.S. government agencies produce a wealth of high-quality, educational information about financial and consumer topics.
For example, the Consumer Action Handbook is an excellent resource for help with consumer purchases, problems and complaints. In the handbook, you can find consumer contacts at hundreds of companies and trade associations, local, state and federal government agencies, national consumer organizations and more.
The handbook goes beyond resource lists. For example, it provides "how to" examples of consumer tools such as how to write an effective complaint letter, how to protect yourself from identity theft and how to buy a car. You can order a free copy of the Consumer Action Handbook (in English or Spanish) at usa.gov/consumer-action-handbook/order-form.shtml. You can also download a pdf of the handbook at this site.
Another two of my favorite websites are mymoney.gov and usa.gov. Both of these list numerous government resources (everything from aid to information) by categories. Mymoney.gov is the newer website and focuses on financial education; in contrast, USA.gov is broader but seems to link to more resources. Both of these are websites I recommend you bookmark.
Of course, I also recommend the University of Illinois Extension's websites and resources, extension.illinois.edu, for unbiased, research-based information.
This year, the UI Extension launched a new community resource: Money Mentors. In this program, mentors (who undergo 30 hours of training) are matched with mentees who want help with personal finances such as paying down debt, setting up a spending plan, organizing finances and reaching financial goals. Mentees receive educational information and mentoring at no charge.
For more information about being a part of Money Mentors, visit web.extension.illinois.edu/cfiv/moneymentors/ or call Cayla Waters, UI Extension program coordinator, at 442-8615. The next Money Mentor training session starts Sept. 30.
Kathy Sweedler is a consumer economics educator at the UI Extension. Contact her at 333-7672 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.