Public assistance still in demand in Pitkin County
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO, Colorado
ASPEN – Despite hints of a rebound in some sectors of the Pitkin County economy, the demand for public assistance – which spiked with the Great Recession – has yet to abate.
The county saw about a 22 percent jump in new applications for such programs as food stamps, Medicaid and other types of aid in 2012, while the total number of assistance cases last year was slightly lower than in 2011.
“It’s not getting worse, let’s celebrate that, but it’s holding steady,” said Nan Sundeen, director of Health and Human Services for the county.
Food stamps and Medicaid saw some of the larger leaps, in part because new rules have eased eligibility, Sundeen said. The number of households receiving food stamps ranged from a low of 147 during March 2012 to a high of 166 in December 2012.
The county’s Emergency Assistance Fund continued to see demand, as well, providing more money last year to help residents with one-time emergency expenses than ever before. Requests for help exhausted the $59,000 the fund had available, including an extra $4,000 that county commissioners added in the fall to keep it from running dry.
The final quarter of 2012 saw the greatest use of the fund, with 93 households seeking help. In all, $19,893 was distributed during the last three months of the year to help applicants with such expenses as rent, food costs, utility bills and transportation.
Taking an unexplained drop were the number of families receiving child-care assistance in the county, Sundeen noted. The program was serving 17 families a year ago; about half that number are receiving the help now, she said.
It may be that some recipients have given up looking for work and are staying home with their children, Sundeen theorized.
In a quarterly report to county commissioners last week, Health and Human Services for the first time provided a one-day snapshot of where assistance recipients reside in the county. On Jan. 7, there were 888 cases countywide, including 258 in Aspen, but those totals reflect the duplication that results when an individual receives assistance from more than one program. An individual receiving adult finance assistance, family medical assistance and food assistance, for example, would be counted three times in the total of 888.
Another 258 in the tally were listed as “homeless,” but that figure includes people who didn’t provide an address because, for example, they’re temporarily residing with someone else. There were also 98 cases in Basalt and 116 with a Snowmass address, according to the report. Again, the numbers invariably reflect some individuals being counted more than once because they’re receiving more than one type of assistance.
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Just in time for Halloween, the Pitkin County Board of Health voted 4-2 to reduce the size of informal gatherings from 10 to five for at least the next two weeks starting Friday. According to the public health director, officials are currently investigating 11 outbreaks in Pitkin County.