By the numbers:
Food stamp allocations in Moffat County:
— Total: $2.43 million
— Per month average: $203,185
— Total: $1.81 million
— Per month average: $151,354
— Total: $862,706
— Per month average: $71,892
In the 42 years Marie Peer has been working for the Moffat County Department of Social Services, she has seen several tough economic eras.
They’re hard to tell each other apart, the department director said.
“When you are in them, they each seem like they are the worst ever,” she said.
But since 2008, Peer’s employees have been faced with meeting demand caused by growing numbers of applications and funding given out to those needing help in tough economic conditions. That’s evident in the federally funded food stamp program, she said.
“The employees here have been working really, really hard,” she said. “They’ve been handling the stress very well. I mean they know and see how important it is for people to get their benefits.”
In 2010, Peer’s department allocated $2.43 million in food stamps. That number is up from $1.81 million in 2009 and $862,706 in 2008.
Through February, Peer said $419,964.44 has been allocated in food stamps in Moffat County.
Peer contends those numbers provide a peek into the area’s economic situation.
“I think that it indicates that our recovery isn’t quite here yet and it certainly is disturbing just to know that this number of people need to have food stamps,” she said. “On the other hand, I am really grateful to know that food stamps exist and that they are helpful to people who have reduced income.”
The food stamp caseload has also steadily increased over the last two years, she said.
In January 2009, the department handled about 400 food stamp cases, which increased to and remained at about 650 cases in the later months of 2010.
Food stamp allocations are based on income level and family size, Peer said.
Peer contends more people are finding work that pays less or offers fewer hours than a few years ago, considering the increases in food stamp allocations despite the caseload remaining more or less steady.
Per month funding of the food stamp program has also increased from $96,849 in January 2009 to $208,188.64 in February this year.
However, statistics showed the first significant decline in funding since the middle of 2007 came between June and October last year when funding dropped from a high of $214,774 to $191,644, respectively.
Peer said she also thinks residents’ attitudes regarding benefits administered by social services are changing.
“I think some people used to just tough it out and not apply for things they might be eligible for and I’m thinking that people may be a little bit more pragmatic about the whole thing and thinking that these are benefits that are placed there to support people,” she said. “Sometimes people just hate to accept any kind of help and I’m hoping that people are beginning to see that help is not a bad thing to accept.”
But, there are still quite a few residents who are finding creative ways to make ends meet, Peer said, given the circumstances.
“I think the increase means there are more people who are having to manage with less and people are facing some real choices about how they spend money and how they make ends meet and at the same time, it seems as if people are finding ways to manage,” she said.
The two years of increased demand for food stamps and other social service programs has forced some changes in how the department interacts with the public, she said.
“One of the things I think we have lost has been that when people came into the office before, we would spend more time really listening and really hearing as we are processing things,” she said. “Now it feels a lot more like we are rushing people instead of really being able to listen to clients as well. But, we have to be able to manage far more with the same amount of staff.”
But, Peer said she remains optimistic about future. She doesn’t see hope in the numbers just yet, but rather in people.
“I just see people out there applying for jobs and having a positive attitude and they’re going to find a way to make things work,” she said. “I don’t see anybody saying, ‘Oh, it’s all over.’”
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