Depending on who you ask, crowdfunding may be the best or the worst trend to hit the Internet. We’ve seen upsetting cases where crowdfunding has been used and abused, and we’ve also seen more than a few heartwarming stories where crowdfunding has helped to save a life. For one family of a sick child, the effects of a well-meaning GoFundMe campaign have come as a shock — potentially costing a child with bone cancer her government health insurance.
Demicka Gilmour lives with her 21-year-old son, who is disabled, and her 15-year-old daughter, who has bone cancer, in a Section 8 apartment in Tukwila, Washington. Before finding their current apartment, the family had previously been homeless after a cascade of unfortunate events — Gilmour’s daughter Tavi lost her leg to bone cancer, and Gilmour lost her job after taking time off work to care for her daughter. The Gilmour family, who now relies on the government for food assistance, were stunned to learn that a recent donation collected through a GoFundMe account could affect their government aid. The $15,000 donation will be counted as income and could cause the Gilmours to lose their state food benefits and federal medical assistance, which covers Tavi’s chemotherapy.
No matter your political affiliation or personal beliefs, the question on everyone’s mind is: How is this even possible? How could something like this happen to a family in need, a family that truly could use an extra $15,000?
In terms of charitable contributions, Internet crowdfunding is a relatively new phenomenon that we haven’t completely explored the effects of yet. In a best-case scenario, a crowdfunding site like GoFundMe is used for the purpose it is intended — to give money to a person or family in need, like a child who lost both parents in a car accident or a family with mounting medical bills, as we saw in the Gilmours’ case. In a worst-case scenario, GoFundMe can bring selfishness to the forefront, allowing anyone to use the donation-based website to raise money for a 21st birthday party, for example.
But when GoFundMe is used correctly, it’s alarming to see that even our best efforts may not be enough to help those who need it the most. The Gilmours’ generous GoFundMe donation backfired for one reason and one reason only: The lump sum, gifted by friends and strangers online, pushed the Gilmours over their income allowance to receive government assistance.
Washington State DSHS assistance is determined based on income through a six-question survey, while federal assistance through the SNAP program may be based on a gross or net monthly income test set at poverty level. For example, a four-person household that makes more than $2628 per month may not receive government food benefits. Social Security Disability Insurance has similar income restrictions, with a working wage as well as tips, investment income, pension, royalties and more counted toward a household’s annual earnings. The Gilmours’ government caseworker says that DSHS and Social Security both consider GoFundMe donations to be income.
For a family struggling to make ends meet, and especially a family with ongoing medical expenses, this income-based disqualification comes as an unbelievable blow. The Gilmours believe the government should make an exception, and most of their donors agree.
In a heartbreaking case like the Gilmours, nobody wins. Thankfully, there are a few workarounds if you want to support this family or give to another family in need. You can avoid this catch 22 by avoiding the big crowdfunding sites and giving material items instead — a local Methodist church is working to provide the Gilmours with furniture, food and clothing. And while cash donations are still considered income, most gift cards are deemed OK. Families on government assistance can receive grocery and superstore gift cards, though Visa gift cards may count as earnings.