TROY, N.Y., MARCH 22, 2022 — Healthy Alliance (Alliance for Better Health and its affiliates) today announced the expansion of its Micro-Spend Program, providing flexible dollars to 18 clinical and community-based organizations working with the underserved throughout the Capital Region of New York.
Through the Micro-Spend Program, Healthy Alliance allocates $1,000 per month to each participating organization to autonomously address community members’ immediate, one-time needs — such as sneakers for kids, culturally appropriate clothing, space heaters, bus passes for interviews, driver’s licenses and/or non-driver’s license IDs, and much more — on the spot. To allocate funds, Healthy Alliance has teamed up with Samaritan— a Seattle-based company that developed a platform to link individuals in need to the social and financial capital necessary to meet housing and health goals via a smart debit card. Although the platform has been historically used to address housing insecurity, the two companies have partnered to further amplify the efforts of on-the-ground providers and ensure the necessities that make a significant difference in community members’ lives can be purchased in a timely manner.
Participating organizations designate key staff to allot funds at their discretion, divvying dollars relative to community members’ needs. Community members can use the smart debit card to make a purchase, or the designated staff can use the card on behalf of the community member. Micro-Spend funds cannot be used for services or items covered by Medicaid, such as medical transportation.
Healthy Alliance ran a five-month long Micro-Spend Pilot Program in 2021 to understand its impact on both staff and community members participating, as well as to build experience to better scale the program. Two community-based organizations participated in the pilot— Commission on Economic Opportunity (CEO) and St. Catherine’s Center for Children (St. Catherine’s).
“The counties we serve in Upstate (New York) have many amazing programs to help those in need. The Micro-Spend Program, however, serves our clients in ways we haven’t seen before with the existing programs,” said St. Catherine’s Case Manager, Sarah Ryan. “The Micro-Spend Program offers alternatives and in places where clients have been turned away or didn’t qualify…for example, we recently had a client in a shared residence (who) needed a secure means of refrigeration for their medication. Finding an item like a mini fridge for a client would be extremely uncommon in any other community resource program, but Micro-Spend gave us a way to ensure proper storage of a medication that was essential to the individual’s health. The program works to meet very specific and unique needs of each individual — ones that are hard to fill with the general resources available in our community.”
CEO had a similar experience to St. Catherine’s and was able to serve community members in non-traditional capacities.
“When looking at social determinants of health (SDoH), it is important to understand that barriers can come in all forms. Many of the more common barriers typically have safety-net programs that are working to combat them,” said CEO’s Assistant Director of Program Operations, Renata Gwozdz. “The Micro-Spend Program allows for a flexibility that recognizes SDoH outside of the basics of food, housing, etc. For example, the individual who cannot pay a cell phone bill when waiting for callbacks on a potential job, or the family that cannot pay their car insurance but rely on their vehicle for all transportation needs.”
Sixteen new participants are joining CEO and St. Catherine’s in the 2022 Micro-Spend Program: Ellis Hospital, St. Mary’s Healthcare, Samaritan Hospital, Whitney M. Young Jr. Health Center, Hometown Health Centers, Planned Parenthood of Greater NY, Upper Hudson Planned Parenthood, St. Paul’s Center, Alliance for Positive Health, Rehabilitation Support Services, City Mission of Schenectady, US Committee for Refugees & Immigrants, LifePath (FKA Senior Services of Albany), Hoosick Street Pediatrics, Riverview Pediatrics, and Lansingburgh Family Practice.
“We are excited to introduce a program that not only supports but empowers those working directly with community members to address immediate needs, without jumping through hoops and preventing larger costs and health issues downstream,” said Healthy Alliance’s CEO, Erica Coletti. “We will continue to learn as we collaborate with more organizations, focusing our efforts on understanding the impact and opportunities to expand the program more broadly.”