Landercasper: Food insecurity continues to be a reality in Pitkin County
Back in May, many of our friends and neighbors relying on food assistance (SNAP benefits) tied to the COVID-19 Federal Health Emergency lost much of that assistance when the Public Health Emergency expired. Some Pitkin County residents, many of them older adults on fixed incomes, went from receiving $280/month in food assistance or more to $24/month. For many of us, the COVID crisis seems like a distant memory, but the socioeconomic problems it unearthed around food insecurity – remember long lines at food distribution sites – still remain, and they’re in our backyard.
For those who qualify and collect federal food assistance in Pitkin County, the help often isn’t enough because of our high cost of living. For example, the SNAP benefit allotment can be as low as $20/month. The Federal Poverty Level, which determines federal food assistance allocations, isn’t a realistic measure of need in Pitkin County, where the average home value is north of $2 million. Instead, our office – Pitkin County Human Services – promotes the use of the self sufficiency standard, or 400-500% of the federal poverty level, to measure the local level of food insecurity. About one-third of our year-round population is living below this standard, which is up to $72,900 for a single individual and up to $150,000 for a family of four. When it comes to food insecurity, 30% of our residents are regularly making difficult decisions about whether to pay rent or put food on the table.
Luckily, there is help.
A collaboration of regional governments, including Pitkin, Eagle, and Garfield counties as well as non-profit partners have formed the Mountain Coalition for Food and Nutrition Security. The coalition’s goal is to eradicate food insecurity. LIFT-UP distributes food monthly in Aspen (and across the Roaring Fork and Colorado River Valleys) at the Pitkin County Human Services Building, 0405 Castle Creek Road, and Buttermilk Ski Resort parking lot, 38700 Colo. Highway 82. Pitkin County Senior Services offers community dine-in meals and home delivery service. This list, bit.ly/44E1GDz, which is updated regularly, includes information on food assistance across our region. People can also call the Hunger-Free Hotline at 855-855-4626.
COVID intensified the need for food assistance locally and exposed the stark reality that many of us are facing challenging choices on a daily basis. Now that the curtain has been pulled back, let’s shrug off the stigma, confront the challenge, and offer a helping hand – it truly is a community effort.
Sam Landercasper is the Interim Director of the Pitkin County Department of Human Services.