Quarterly eNewsletter About the Benefits.gov Program
April 2016
In This Issue

This April, Benefits.gov celebrates its 14th anniversary. In the last 14 years, the website has come a long way, and this year, we’re celebrating with a brand new, redesigned newsletter. This edition of the Benefits.gov Compass has a new look and feel, yet the same informative and timely articles. This newsletter covers numerous topics, from environmental and conservation benefits, to key tips for better management of your finances. We hope you’ll enjoy the redesigned newsletter and benefit from the information we share.

This April, Benefits.gov celebrates 14 years of helping millions of citizens access government benefit information. Since 2002, Benefits.gov has been the official benefits website for the U.S. government, and as we look back over nearly a decade and a half, we are proud to continue providing you with critical benefit information.

Managing your personal finances can be complicated, tricky, and stressful. With the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes lose track of our finances and can end up in debt or worse. According to a study by Pew Trust, the amount of debt proportional to income has increased by 80% in recent years. With the increase in debt, it’s important to stay informed on how to manage debts and make smart financial decisions. Benefits.gov is focusing on this critical issue in April to coincide with Financial Literacy Month.

Every June, the National Safety Council (NSC) celebrates National Safety Month by focusing on key safety issues in homes, communities, at the work place, and on the road. The NSC is a nonprofit organization best known as the nation’s leading safety promoter for more than 100 years. The council provides many resources on their website to not only educate individuals about public safety but also offer them courses to help build skills that can save lives.

Spring is the season of renewal and Earth Day is a reminder to honor our planet and handle it with care. While spring is springing and summer is coming, what better reason to spend some time outside, and enjoying nature. This Earth Day, April 22, we get to enjoy the natural beauty of our surroundings, but it is also important to conserve them too. This year, Benefits.gov is sharing ways you can enjoy the beautiful weather while helping the environment at the same time.

Spring is a natural time to get moving as warm weather lifts spirits and draws us outside, so it’s no surprise that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Benefits.gov is here to help you kick off springtime with a new attitude towards your physical well-being.

April, organizations around the world take time to give back to their communities through Global Days of Service events. These events have a positive impact in areas such as health, education, and the environment. Youth Service America and Boston University are two leading Global Days of Service organizers each with long history of giving back to their communities.

A Message from Al Sloane
A Message from Al Sloane, Benefits.gov Program Director

This April, Benefits.gov celebrates its 14th anniversary. In the last 14 years, the website has come a long way, and this year, we’re celebrating with a brand new, redesigned newsletter. This edition of the Benefits.gov Compass has a new look and feel, yet the same informative and timely articles. This newsletter covers numerous topics, from environmental and conservation benefits, to key tips for better management of your finances. We hope you’ll enjoy the redesigned newsletter and benefit from the information we share.

As always, we welcome your input - click here to share your feedback with us. And, we hope you'll "Like" us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel.

Benefits.gov Celebrates 14 Years!
Benefits.gov Celebrates 14 Years!

This April, Benefits.gov celebrates 14 years of helping millions of citizens access government benefit information. Since 2002, Benefits.gov has been the official benefits website for the U.S. government, and as we look back over nearly a decade and a half, we are proud to continue providing you with critical benefit information.

Over the past 14 years, Benefits.gov has entrenched itself as the to the place to easily access online information about over 1,200 benefit and assistance programs from 17 federal agencies. Together, with our Partner agencies, we strive in our mission to reduce the expense and difficulty of interacting with the government while increasing citizen access to government benefit information.

Our site’s main tool is the Benefit Finder, an eligibility pre-screening questionnaire that allows citizens to answer a series of questions about their personal background to discover which benefits on our site they may be eligible to receive. With the Benefit Finder, you can view a personalized list of benefits based on your responses to questions and can learn more specifics about the requirements, application process and points of contact. Visit our YouTube channel and watch our Benefit Finder Tutorial for additional help!

Fun Facts:

Our efforts wouldn’t be possible without the work and commitment of our longstanding partnership of 17 federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Labor, which serves as the Managing Partner for the Benefits.gov program. You can find a list of all of our partnering agencies on our site, and you can also browse benefits by agency.

Benefits.gov would like to thank you for using our site. It is a privilege to serve you.

Money Matters - Being Responsible...
Money Matters - Be Responsible with Your Finances

Managing your personal finances can be complicated, tricky, and stressful. With the hustle and bustle of life, we sometimes lose track of our finances and can end up in debt or worse. According to a study by Pew Trust, the amount of debt proportional to income has increased by 80% in recent years. With the increase in debt, it’s important to stay informed on how to manage debts and make smart financial decisions. Benefits.gov is focusing on this critical issue in April to coincide with Financial Literacy Month. In an effort to help citizens establish and maintain healthy financial habits, here are some financial literacy tips:

1. Commit to change. Recognize your attitude toward money management and explore what changes you can make in your spending and saving habits. This is the initial step to better managing your finances. We encourage you to check out the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s “Know Before You Owe” resources for more information on how debt is racked up and what you can do to avoid some common mistakes.

2. Find out where your money is going and ways to reduce spending. The Financial Literacy and Education Commission sponsors a national financial education website, MyMoney.gov, to help equip the public with tools such as financial checklists, budgeting worksheets and calculators. Use the worksheets to track your expenses and see where you are spending a little extra. If it’s groceries, you can save by visiting the Benefits.gov Food/Nutrition page to locate food programs to help cut down costs, such as the emergency food assistance program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

3. Get copies of your credit report. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions (FACT) Act provides every consumer the right to a free credit report every year from each of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC) is a nonprofit financial counseling organization offering free and affordable financial services in person, on the phone, or online.

4. Pay down debt. You can start paying down your debts in a couple of ways. You can repay the debt with the highest interest rate first or concentrate on paying the debt with the smaller balance. If you have loans to repay, visit the Benefits.gov Browse by Category page to discover resources on how to better manage your loans. There you will find resources on opportunities to assist with paying back educational/student loans and refinancing existing loans for veterans and active servicemembers. The Federal Housing Administration (FHA) also provides a number of loans and refinancing options, like the Basic FHA Insured Home Mortgage.

5. Check up on your insurance. Look at what services are offered and covered under your health insurance along with researching the co-pays and premiums. You should also compare policies for your auto-insurance policy, disability, and life insurance costs. Check out the Healthcare and Insurance category pages on the Benefits.gov webpages to learn more about plans in your own state.

Financial Literacy Month is only the beginning of improving your money-managing habits, and we hope you will take steps to expand your financial knowledge throughout the year. Benefits.gov is always here to help you find resources to assist your financial situation. 

Benefits.gov Highlights National...
Benefits.gov Highlights National Safety Month

Every June, the National Safety Council (NSC) celebrates National Safety Month by focusing on key safety issues in homes, communities, at the work place, and on the road. The NSC is a nonprofit organization best known as the nation’s leading safety promoter for more than 100 years. The council provides many resources on their website to not only educate individuals about public safety but also offer them courses to help build skills that can save lives. While we tend to be busy with our everyday activities, safety should always be a priority as we never know when danger can strike. Natural disasters, in particular, can occur at any time without warning. Benefits.gov would like to bring a few programs to your attention that could help you in times of disaster or emergencies.

The Disaster Assistance and Emergency Relief program managed by the U.S. Department of the Treasury allows for taxpayers and businesses to recover financial losses faster from the impact of a disaster when the area they are in is a federally-declared disaster area. This is done through deducting casualty losses on the year the disaster occurred or through filing an amended return to deduct losses the year prior to the disaster.

Also, the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), a subdivision of the U.S Department of Agriculture (USDA), provides assistance when individuals’ property has been destroyed by natural disasters. The NRCS helps America’s farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners conserve the nation’s soil, water, air, and other natural resources. The organization offers the Emergency Watershed Protection program which is designed to help people and conserve natural resources by relieving imminent hazards to life and property caused by floods, fires, drought, windstorms, and other natural occurrences.

Additionally, DisasterAssistance.gov's Rural Housing: Housing Repair Loans and Grants program also administered by the USDA offers loans and grants to very low-income homeowners to repair, improve, modernize, or to remove health and safety hazards in their rural dwellings.

To learn more about the programs that can help you during a time of disaster, please visit our Disaster Relief benefit category page. You can also see what other benefits you qualify for by using our Benefit Finder tool.

One Billion Acts of Kindness for...
One Billion Acts of Kindness for Mother Earth

Spring is the season of renewal and Earth Day is a reminder to honor our planet and handle it with care. While spring is springing and summer is coming, what better reason to spend some time outside, and enjoying nature. This Earth Day, April 22, we get to enjoy the natural beauty of our surroundings, but it is also important to conserve them too. This year, Benefits.gov is sharing ways you can enjoy the beautiful weather while helping the environment at the same time.

There are a few ways you can be more environmentally friendly in your day-to-day lives. You can start by engaging in activities that preserve and build upon the natural environment, like planting a tree and by keeping our trees and forests healthy. Did you know? Trees help filter the pollution out of the air and absorb carbon dioxide and potentially harmful gasses.

 To help maintain the already planted trees and forests, the Healthy Forest Reserve Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), help landowners restore, enhance and protect forestland resources or private lands by improving environmental quality. These programs provide citizens with yearly rental payments in exchange for removing environmentally sensitive land from agricultural production, as well as, conservation easements, which regulate the use of a piece of land to protect its associated resources. With these programs, you can help repair damaged forestlands and make a positive impact on the environment.

Benefits.gov also has information on benefit programs that protect animal habitats in your state. The Cooperative Endangered Species Fund, a U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) program, provides funding to states and territorial agencies for species and habitat conservation on non-federal lands.

The ability to keep America beautiful doesn’t end with preserving the outdoors; conservation can continue in your own home. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) manages the PowerSaver Home Energy Retrofit Loan Pilot Program, which offers borrowers low-cost loans to make energy-saving improvements to their homes. Supported by the Federal Housing Administration (FHA), homeowners can use PowerSaver loans to install environmentally friendly insulation, duct sealing, HVAC systems, solar panels and more.

No one can do everything, but everyone can do something. It’s officially spring, so if you feel renewed, give back something you have taken from Mother Earth with some revival efforts. Do your part to contribute to environmental conservation by looking at other Environmental sustainability/Conservation benefits on our site. Use the Benefit Finder tool to see what other benefits you might be eligible for!

Spring into Fun and Fitness
Spring into Fun and Fitness

Spring is a natural time to get moving as warm weather lifts spirits and draws us outside, so it’s no surprise that May is National Physical Fitness and Sports Month. Benefits.gov is here to help you kick off springtime with a new attitude towards your physical well-being.

Looking for some great ideas for promoting fun and fitness for your family, a school, or a community center? Check out the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, & Nutrition for tips and resources on how to get healthy, get moving, and have some fun. Here are a few ways to get fit:

  • Building aerobic activities like jogging and cycling into your daily routine promotes many positive health benefits such as increased heart strength. Riding a bike to work or choosing to take the stairs instead of an elevator are easy ways to include aerobic activity into your day.

  • Balance and stretching activities enhance physical stability and flexibility, which reduce the risk of injuries.

  • Maintaining a balanced diet is just as important as exercising. Switching to fat-free or low-fat milk, drinking water instead of sugary drinks, choosing lean proteins and eating more fruits and vegetables are easy ways to improve nutrition and feel great!

One of the programs the President’s Council sponsors is National Physical Education & Sport Week from May 1-7. Find out more about getting a school or community center involved and get ideas and resources here.

May is also National Biking Month, and communities all across the country are sponsoring events to encourage you and your family to trade four wheels for two! For starters, you can cycle to school with a child on Friday, May 4, for Ride to School Day. This is part of a push to get kids to opt for walking and riding to school whenever it is safe to do so. Look for more information and tips at the Walk or Bike to School website. Hopefully that will inspire you to park your car and participate in National Bike to Work Day on May 20. Volunteers at events around the country will be sharing tips to encourage safe cycling and might even be handing out refreshments to keep your energy up! Check out BikeLeague.org to see if your community is hosting an event or to find out how you can get involved. You might find that Bike to Work Day becomes an everyday choice for you.

Whether you walk, ride, run, or skip, the important thing is to get moving and have some fun. Make May your month to spring into fun and fitness and check out our website and previous news articles for more ways to get moving and improve your health. 

Global Days of Service
Global Days of Service

Each April, organizations around the world take time to give back to their communities through Global Days of Service events. These events have a positive impact in areas such as health, education, and the environment. Youth Service America and Boston University are two leading Global Days of Service organizers each with long history of giving back to their communities.

Youth Service America’s (YSA) Global Youth Day of Service, established in 1988 and observed in more than 135 countries, is the largest service event in the world that celebrates and mobilizes the millions of young people who improve their communities through service.  Through the Global Youth Day of Service, youth work together with schools, nonprofits, community organizations, government agencies, and others to address the world’s most critical issues and change their communities. Boston University, as well as other major U.S. universities like Michigan State University and Temple University, also feature Global Days of Service programs offering volunteering events both within the United States and abroad.

Participating in these community service opportunities is easy – you can locate an existing project (YSA, BU, MSU) or create your own (YSA, BU, MSU).

Interested in starting your own service-related event? Here are some ideas on how you can support your community:

  • Serve food at a soup kitchen

  • Donate gently used clothing and toys

  • Volunteer at your local hospital or retirement community

  • Help at or donate supplies to your local animal shelter

  • Deliver meals to homebound individuals

  • Pick up litter in a local park or along a highway

  • Donate food items to your local food bank

  • Help someone learn to read

  • Donate books to your local library

  • Collect coats for the homeless

  • Donate toiletry items to a local shelter

  • Plant a tree

Make a difference in your community and world this April by taking part in a Global Days of Service event near you!

In This Issue
A Message from Al Sloane
Benefits.gov Celebrates 14 Years!
Money Matters - Being Responsible...
Benefits.gov Highlights National...
One Billion Acts of Kindness for...
Spring into Fun and Fitness
Global Days of Service
Compass divider logo

Social Buzz

Compass divider logo