LiveWell Northwest Colorado: Recognizing food insecurity
Steamboat Springs — Food insecurity can mean different things to different people. Here at Routt County’s Department of Human Services it intersects with a whole host of safety net concerns and can be hidden if you don’t understand what to look for.
When someone is coming in looking for help with rent or car repairs, there is a good chance that they are also struggling to put food on the table. We see people foregoing food in order to afford prescription medications or not taking their medications in order to eat.
Too often people find themselves having to compromise the quality of the food they purchase in order to stretch limited dollars as far as they can. Over time, their health is compromised. Children have a hard time concentrating in school, and employees’ productivity is decreased when they are hungry.
The number of households eligible for and accessing food assistance through Human Services varies from month to month. The annual food benefits used by Routt County consumers have averaged $1.6 million over the last three years. There are currently 450 households or approximately 800 people receiving help with their groceries.
A lot of people think that when a person or family is determined eligible for food assistance that they automatically receive a set amount of money. This is not the case. The amount of assistance is based on the household income, size and several other factors.
The closer the formula calculation is to the eligibility cap the less the benefits are. There are lots of people who only receive $16, the minimum benefit, for the month. There are also those who receive the maximum benefits, approximately $194 per person, who runs out of them before the end of the month.
The most recent Food Stamp Impact Report released by Hunger Free Colorado notes that Routt County is providing food assistance to 27.80 percent of our eligible population. If this is accurate, there are another 2,878 people eligible for food assistance.
In January 2016, a federally mandated program called Employment First was implemented. This program requires that people who are unemployed but able to work must participate in “work activities” in order to receive benefits for more than three months. Since implementation, we have seen about a 20 percent decrease in the food assistance caseload.
When you consider that those benefiting from food assistance are living at or below 130 percent of the federal poverty guidelines and that it costs three and half times that amount to make ends meet in Routt County, you should realize that there are many more people who are experiencing food insecurity. They are struggling with food, housing, childcare, health insurance and other expenses without the safety net of public resources available to them.
The good news is that we live in a generous community with a food bank at LiftUp, lots of nonprofits, churches and private citizens who donate food and money to those in need.
This time of year brings out more giving than others so please reach out if you or someone you know is struggling to have enough food to eat. No one should go hungry.
Vickie Clark is director of Routt County’s Department of Human Services and is a member of the Northwest Colorado Food Coalition. You can reach her at email@example.com.
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