Food stamp use increasing in Northwest Colorado

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Moffat County food stamp trends

April 2008: 343

May 2008: 344

June 2008: 339

July 2008: 344

August 2008: 346

September 2008: 356

October 2008: 372

November 2008: 376

December 2008: 406

January 2009: 434

February 2009: 460

March 2009: 484

April 2009: 505

Source: Moffat County Social Services

Food stamp allocations may not provide a clear picture of the economy, but they are a piece of the puzzle, said Marie Peer, Moffat County Social Services director.

According to a set of reports from the Colorado Benefits Management System, the state's computer records, Moffat County's food stamp requests and dollar allocations have increased rapidly in the past year.

Food stamps "have in the past been a barometer for how the economy is doing," Peer said. "As people lose their jobs, or have their hours cut, or whatever, the number of cases goes up."

A Social Services report shows food stamp cases have increased from 406 in December 2008 to 505 in April 2009.

The total caseload increased 47 percent over the last year, from April 2008 to April 2009. Actual cases increased by 162, up from 343 in 2008.

Peer said she didn't know specifically why additional residents are coming to her office, whether it is because of layoffs or other reasons.

However, she said there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people applying who are ineligible because they make too much money.

"It feels like the bad news about the economy is making people more panicky," Peer said. "It seems like they're trying to shore up losses in income."

The actual dollar allocation given out for food stamps has increased more dramatically than the caseload.

Social Services data from March 2008 to March 2009 shows that funding went up about 73 percent in that time. The actual dollar amount increased from about $66,000 in March last year to almost $114,000 this year.

The rate of growth in financial allocations is almost double the state average of 42 percent.

The other three Northwest Colorado counties also experienced higher than average increases, though neither of the other two spends as much money as Moffat County.

Routt County allocations went up 52 percent, from $21,000 in March 2008 to $32,000 in March 2009.

Rio Blanco County outpaced Moffat County's growth, with food stamp expenses increasing by 89 percent from March 2008 to March 2009, but the actual dollars spent on food stamps were much fewer, going from about $18,000 in 2008 to $34,000 in 2009.

Peer said Rio Blanco County officials cite the contraction in the energy industry as the primary cause of their issues.

Moffat County suffers from that, also, but she thinks there are other factors at play. Routt County and the local work force's dependence on service industry jobs there could be a key reason residents need more assistance.

"Maybe they're losing their jobs or having their hours cut," Peer said. "I think that's a big reason we see this increase."

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