Pitkin County assistance fund runs dry | AspenTimes.com

Pitkin County assistance fund runs dry

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN – Financially struggling residents have tapped out Pitkin County’s Emergency Assistance Fund before 2010 hits the half-way mark.

County commissioners have been asked to allocate another $20,000 from revenues generated by the county’s Healthy Communities Fund tax to replenish the fund. That would mean $40,000 in assistance funding for the year, which is roughly on par with 2009, according to Mitzi Ledingham, the county’s deputy director of Health and Human Services and the administrator of the fund.

Last year, the county put $20,000 into the fund, and also had $15,000 in other grant money to put toward emergency assistance. In all, the county wound up putting about $38,000 toward helping residents pay their rent and utility bills, make medical payments, buy food and the like.

“The economy has not rebounded,” Ledingham said, explaining the quick depletion of the initial $20,000 this year. “Has anything rebounded in the Roaring Fork Valley? I don’t think so. People are still not getting jobs.”

In addition, individuals who have seasonal work in the winter and summer are trying to make ends meet through the offseason.

“There are a lot of people in that category,” Ledingham said.

So far in 2010, the largest outlay from the fund – about $9,000 – has gone toward helping people pay their rent. Auto expenses, utilities, homeowners’ dues and medical/dental bills were also among the covered expenditures.

The Emergency Assistance Fund is meant to provide one-time help, though some residents are also receiving other types of public assistance.

More lower-middle income households are now struggling with reduced hours of employment or joblessness. In November 2008, Pitkin County had about 170 public assistance cases; now that caseload numbers 367, according to Ledingham.

Another complication for those who are struggling is the inability to turn to family and friends to help get through a rough patch, she said. These days, families and friends are also struggling.

The property tax that supports the Healthy Community Fund is currently set to expire in 2012. It generates about $1.4 million annually to support various health and human service programs and nonprofits, as well as the Emergency Assistance Fund.

Commissioners have discussed seeking voter renewal of the tax in November, but have made no formal decision. The tax was last reauthorized in 2005; it has a current levy of 0.394 mills. At a retreat in February, commissioners discussed asking voters to reauthorize the tax for 10 years and, possibly in a separate question, asking them to raise the tax, as well.