Report: Food assistance underutilized in resort communities, including Routt County | SteamboatToday.com

Report: Food assistance underutilized in resort communities, including Routt County

— A recent report by the nonprofit Hunger Free Colorado revealed that many low-income residents in resort communities, including in Routt County, aren't taking advantage of food assistance benefits.

The report estimated that only 27 percent of eligible Routt County residents were using food assistance between 2010 and 2014, or about 882 people out of 3,230 eligible.

The Routt County Department of Human Services didn't provide the information for the report, and tracks users by household, rather than individual, but director Vickie Clark said the numbers seemed to be in the right ballpark.

"As a region, we've been talking about this," Clark said.

The origination estimates similar enrollment gaps in other resort communities, suggesting 80 percent of eligible Summit County residents aren’t enrolled, and 89 percent of Pitkin County residents are unenrolled.

According to Clark, the most recent Routt County data shows about 450 households were enrolled in food assistance in December, a number that has fluctuated during the past several years but decreased from early 2016.

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In 2008, only 150 households were signed up for food assistance. That number grew steadily to a high of 590 households in late 2014, then began to taper off in early 2016, when a new program called Employment First was fully implemented.

The program requires individuals able to work to actively pursue employment or volunteer work if not currently employed, though there are exceptions, including for students and parents.

"If someone comes in to apply for food assistance, and they're able to work, they're required to participate in the program," Clark said.

The new program is likely the cause of a drop in households receiving food assistance, which decreased from 513 households enrolled in January 2016 to 458 in December.

"That has reduced our caseload a lot," Clark said.

Clark said while she believes the office does a good job of encouraging eligible individuals to apply for food assistance, there are more opportunities to get more people signed up.

The Department of Human Services hopes to start satellite days in Oak Creek and Hayden to help people apply for assistance and has considered having someone at LiftUp of Routt County to potentially sign up eligible individuals who are using the food bank.

A recent survey at LiftUp revealed many food bank users are not enrolled in food stamps, though Clark was unsure how many would be eligible for SNAP, Clark said.

Clark said that the food assistance program has evolved through time and no longer uses stamps users must hand a store clerk for various items.

The SNAP program now provides users a card that functions in the same way as a debit card to pay for food.

"It's much more discreet," Clark said.

She said eligible individuals can complete applications in person or online and drop off eligibility materials after-hours at a drop box outside the office.

Applications are often processed in the same day, and people can receive benefits immediately.

"We do our best that way," Clark said.

To learn more about SNAP, visit benefits.gov.

To see Hunger Free Colorado's report, click here.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

Food assistance guidelines:

Household size, max annual income

1 — $15,444

2 — $20,826

3 — $26,208

4 — $31,590

5 — $36,972

6 — $42,354

7 — $47,749

8 — $53,157

Source: benefits.gov