Numbers show assistance programs still in demand |

Numbers show assistance programs still in demand

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado

ASPEN – Sales tax revenues in Aspen and Pitkin County may hint at a rebounding economy, but the number of people seeking public assistance suggests otherwise.

At best, the county’s Department of Health and Human Services has seen applications for a range of programs geared to those in need hold steady compared with the past couple of years. But applications for Medicaid and food stamps – two key indicators of a low-income populace that is struggling – are up so far this year compared with the first six months of both 2011 and 2010, staffers noted during a meeting with county commissioners on Tuesday.

“Look at our food-stamp numbers – that tells you everything,” said Nan Sundeen, director of health and human services for the county. “Food assistance is telling us that people are hungry, they’re not working and they’re seeking assistance.”

During the first two quarters of this year, for example, 941 households in the county received food stamps compared with 840 households in 2011 and 597 in the first two quarters of 2010.

In addition, 1,099 county households received Medicaid assistance for health care during the first half of this year compared with 1,021 in 2011 and 989 in the first half of 2010.

“We have not made a conclusion that the economy is improving based on these numbers,” she told commissioners, who convened as the Board of Social Services for a quarterly update.

The county has, however, seen a decline in requests from its Emergency Assistance Fund, supported with local dollars. The fund for 2012 started with $45,000, including $40,000 from the county’s Healthy Community Fund and $5,000 from the El Pomar Foundation. So far, close to $14,000 has been spent. The fund, meant to provide one-time emergency help, hasn’t seen as many requests for rent and utility assistance so far this year as it has in years past, Sundeen said.

Officials aren’t sure why requests have dropped off, she said.

As a result, though, the maximum allowable request has increased from $750 to $1,000 and $50 City Market food vouchers are now being offered to all food assistance applicants in order to provide immediate help, according to Mitzi Ledingham, deputy director of Health and Human Services.

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