Food assistance peaks in Routt County again

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— The latest numbers from the Routt County Human Services Department show a record number of families are struggling to make ends meet.

In November, the department helped 479 households that needed federal funds in excess of $100,000 to help pay for food.

“I thought I had reached a peak a few months ago on the food-assistance caseload, but it’s inched back up, and for November, it’s record breaking,” Human Services Director Vickie Clark said.

The agency also helps people with low incomes apply for Medicaid, the federal health care program paid for using state and federal dollars.

In October, the number of people in Routt County on Medicaid health insurance grew to 1,425, which equals about $700,000 in benefits. Last year at this time, the number of people on Medicaid was about 1,080.

The food assistance and Medicaid numbers are the two main gauges Clark uses for measuring how local families are doing.

“All these things are indicating that people are still struggling and need help,” Clark said.

The numbers conflict somewhat with a November Fast Facts report that showed the local economy continues to improve. The monthly report compiled by Yampa Valley Data Partners provides a look at the local economy at certain points in time using several economic indicators.

“The employment situation in Routt County is beginning to rapidly improve compared to last year’s seasonally adjusted numbers,” the report states. “This highlights the confidence employers located in Routt County have in the local economy. Employers are beginning to hire, and there is a strong possibility the hiring is for part-time positions.”

The numbers from the LIFT-UP of Routt County Food Bank are more in line with the positive economic indicators.

LIFT-UP Director David Freseman said he does not know why the numbers at the Human Services Department continue to rise.

“Our perception is that there is more employment than there was,” Freseman said.

He said LIFT-UP is on track to serve about 20 percent fewer households in 2011 compared with 2010, when $413,000 in assistance was given out.

“That still means there is a lot going out the door because last year was the highest ever,” Freseman said.

In 2010, 253 households received help with their rent or mortgage payments. That is about three times the number of households that received assistance in 2007.

Freseman expects the rent and mortgage assistance numbers this year to be similar to what they were in 2010.

Although the numbers at LIFT-UP may have peaked in 2010, there still are many families struggling, Freseman said, but things are improving.

“Just in talking to people, there are more jobs,” Freseman said.

Clark said Human Services typically sees its highest numbers each year in November. She said this is due in part to seasonal workers who have moved to Steamboat and have not started working.

“December, we should see a little decrease,” Clark said.

To reach Matt Stensland, call 970-871-4247 or email mstensland@SteamboatToday.com

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