Food stamp usage increases in Moffat County

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— The number of people who use the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps, in Moffat County went up by nearly 50 percent since 2009.

Each year, the number increases, said Kerri Klein, director of the Social Services Department, at the Moffat County Commission meeting Tuesday.

Food stamps usage in Moffat County started jumping higher in 2010, said Laura Willems, self-sufficiency supervisor of Social Services.

Between 2009 and 2010, the average number of households that used food stamps went up about 25 percent, according to figures released by Social Services. That number continues to grow. In 2009, more than 500 households were using food stamps. So far in 2013, the average is more than 740. The numbers reflect a 45 percent increase since 2009.

While the U.S. is said to be recovering from the recession, Willems said Moffat County still is hurting.

People come to Moffat County looking for work but can end up being disappointed and in a bad situation without enough resources to buy groceries.

Additionally, transient people often relocate to live with family members.

The Community Budget Center, a local organization that helps low-income people find housing, food and other services, mostly sees clients who either use food stamps or are eligible to get them, said Karen Brown, manager of the center.

“The economy the way it is, it’s tough right now,” she said.

Even people who have jobs are struggling, Brown said.

“A lot of people who work still get food stamps because they’re working low-income jobs,” she said, adding that food stamps are their way of staying afloat.

“Minimum-wage jobs are not enough for a family to live on,” Brown said.

But come November, SNAP monies will be reduced nationwide because a provision in the 2009 stimulus will expire.

That means people who are using food stamps will see $11 to $36 decreases in their monthly SNAP benefits, Willems said.

In Congress, SNAP has been a point of contention. It got stripped out of the Farm Bill in July, and there still is disagreement about how the program should look and who should have access to it. That means there could be even more drastic cuts to SNAP spending.

U.S. Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Colo., spoke about SNAP when he visited Craig on Aug. 29.

“I’ve always kind of wondered why we put nutrition in with the Farm Bill,” he said.

He agreed that it was good to reduce SNAP benefits because he said the program could deter people from looking for employment.

“We want to be able to encourage people to work,” he said.

In Moffat County, some organizations are working on proactive solutions to help people out of poverty.

Moffat County United Way started a project in August called Bridges Out of Poverty, which is a mechanism for the community to help people in poverty to start helping themselves, said Corrie Ponikvar, United Way executive director.

“It’s another tool we’re offering the community to help people out,” Ponikvar said. “It has to be a community effort.”

Food stamps can be one method for impoverished families to get a step up, she said.

“You can only imagine how overwhelmed you’d be if you were working three jobs and trying to put food on the table,” Ponikvar said.

Erin Fenner can be reached at 970-875-1794 or efenner@CraigDailyPress.com.

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