36-year old Bellevue resident Armiti Band walks 30 minutes to and from work to save $1.75 in bus fare. Sometimes there’s bad weather, but the Iranian refugee lives paycheck-to-paycheck with her 41-year old husband and 6-year old daughter. She’d rather keep the fare.
Bellevue is known for Microsoft, Bill Gates and an $881,000 median home value, but about 7.1 percent of Bellevue’s overall population lived in poverty in 2015 and about 24 percent of Bellevue households have incomes less than $50,000. Many in these households are immigrants or refugees like Armiti who struggle with language, an entirely new way of life and the isolation of being cut off from their support system.
“We don’t have anybody here, just me, my husband and my daughter. We are so alone here,” she said.
Well-paid professionals in Iran, Armiti was a microbiologist for 11 years and her husband worked as a chemist. The couple have found life in the United States a challenge. Their savings were gone before they understood that they could qualify for low-income housing, eaten up in a matter of months by rent in high-priced Bellevue. They both found jobs, her husband working night shifts, but their income barely covers expenses.
Then, Armiti’s husband got sick.
“He couldn’t keep his balance and just kept vomiting. I think sometimes he will die, you know? It was very hard for me,” said Armiti.
For more than a year, Armiti and her husband didn’t have health insurance.
“I brought him to the doctor, and the last time, the doctor said to me maybe he needs to go to the gastrologist, the specialist for his stomach,” said Armiti. “But, we don’t have any insurance. I have to pay $360 per month and my husband $360. It was too much for us. We don’t make too much money. We can’t get that kind of insurance. It was too expensive.”
With her husband unable to work full time, depressed and not getting any better, it’s been up to Armiti to hold her family together. Fortunately, she found support and advice at International Community Health Center, which as a Federally Qualified Health Center provides affordable health services to many immigrants, refugees and low income King County residents. Sharrisa Tjok, enrollment specialist, introduced Armiti to the clinic’s sliding fee scale, helping lay out her health insurance options.
“We come here any time we got a problem,” Armiti said. “She helped me and gave me direction.”
In Armiti’s case, less income helped the couple qualify for Medicaid, which meant her husband could see a specialist about his stomach problems. With affordable health care, the whole family is on more stable footing. Working hard, building a new life, fulfilling the American dream – seem within reach.
“They can make sure that her husband gets help,” said Sharissa. “Affordable health care helps keep people healthy so they can stay productive. Having medical coverage is essential to being able to hold a job, but it doesn’t make sense to ask someone to first hold a job before they can qualify for medical coverage.”
Knowing her husband can get the medical help he needs gives Armiti hope. Even so, sometimes she feels the burden she carries is too great. Then she thinks about her daughter to remind herself her family’s struggles have a purpose.
“For her, here is very good for education, for everything,” said Armiti. “She has freedom here. In my country, she has to cover her body, her hair. Because of my daughter, I think it is better she didn’t grow up in Iran. It’s better she grow up here with freedom.”