Pitkin County boosts spending to handle welfare caseload

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” Pitkin County will spend an additional $58,286 this year to add a second staffer to help the growing number of residents who are seeking various forms of public assistance.

County commissioners agreed Tuesday to increase Pitkin County’s contract with the Eagle County Economic Services Department, which provides the service. Some state funding may become available to help reimburse the county; otherwise, the dollars must come from Pitkin County’s coffers.

“Ultimately, this is the type of service counties are meant to provide,” said Commissioner Rachel Richards. “We just have to bite the bullet and do that.”

“I think we have to do the most we can do for the people who are in need,” agreed Commissioner Patti Kay-Clapper.

George Newman, the other commissioner present for the discussion, also favored the increased spending to handle applications and manage Pitkin County’s ballooning caseload. The county will spend $177,092 in its contract with Eagle County this year instead of the budgeted $118,806.

If the higher costs ” fueled by a recession that has left county residents out of work and scraping to pay bills ” continue, the county will face a shortfall in its five-year spending plan, said County Manager Hilary Fletcher.

“That obviously puts us in a serious deficit situation in five years,” she said. Adjustments in other county spending would have to be made, Fletcher said.

Pitkin County’s caseload, made up of clients who are receiving any of various types of public assistance, increased more than 50 percent from the first quarter of 2008 to the first quarter of 2009, according to Nan Sundeen, county health and services director. Applications for assistance were up 116 percent over the same period and the number of food stamp recipients alone more than doubled, she said.

“We never imagined our caseload would soar the way it has,” Sundeen said.

Most of the programs, including food stamps, temporary assistance to needy families (formerly known as welfare), energy assistance, Medicaid, child-care help and the like, are funded by the state or federal government, but the county absorbs the cost of administering the programs through its contract with Eagle County.


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