Although Marie Peer, Moffat County Social Services director, doesn’t like to see an increase in food stamp funding, she is more than happy to help those in need.
Last year, social services distributed about $1 million more in food assistance money than 2008 to households across Moffat County.
Peer attributes an economic decline and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 for a 43 percent increase in households becoming eligible for the federal food stamps program in Moffat County.
The ARRA, also known as the stimulus package, increased the maximum food assistance allotment by 13.6 percent on April 1, 2009.
Many economists consider the food assistance program a good measure of the economic climate. Peer, too, sees a correlation between the two.
“When looking at social services programs, the economy is best reflected in food stamps — it is the first to rise and the first to decrease,” Peer said. “Watching that program and what it does gives the picture of the economy better than any of our other programs.”
Peer also said social services is seeing more applications than in recent times.
“More people are willing to apply,” she said. “People are applying who aren’t eligible, so people are saying, ‘Gee, these are hard times, maybe I better make sure and see that my family has what they are able to get so that we make it though this OK.’”
The department had 490 more applications for the program in 2009 than in 2008.
Eligibility for food stamps is based on several factors, including income, personal assets, and cost of living expenses including rent and utilities. The size of the household is also a factor.
An eligible, three-person household can receive $526 per month and a seven-person household can receive $1,052 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for food assistance, which excludes alcohol and tobacco.
As of December 2009, Moffat County had 590 households on food assistance, up from January’s 413 households.
Peer said there are a number of reasons a household would apply for food stamps.
Employees laid off from their jobs, or who saw a decrease in salary are the top candidates, she said.
Food stamp numbers also are up across the state.
From 2008 to 2009, statewide food assistance increased by 60.3 percent from about $352 million to $565 million in federal funding.
Neighboring counties also have seen increases in assistance money going to households.
Compared to January 2009, Rio Blanco County had an 85.7 percent increase and Routt had a 135.8 percent increase in assistance funding in December 2009.
Peer said that Moffat County is doing better than some other counties because of the nature of the local industry.
She said urban areas in the state and across the country fared worse than Moffat County.
“Some other counties are really facing a train wreck,” she said.
Peer’s biggest goal is making Moffat County self-sufficient.
“We want to see people thriving, doing well, and we are in a dip in the road right now,” she said.
She also said the “dip” can wear on residents.
“I think that people not having enough food is a really (terrible) strain on people,” she said. “I think being out of work is a big enough strain, but not having enough food and not knowing where your rent is coming from, not knowing if your car payment can be made, all of those things are very, very stressful.”