Food aid, Medicaid assistance for Eagle County residents to see big changes in coming weeks
As many as 5,538 county residents may lose their Medicaid eligibility starting in April
Part of the federal and state response to the COVID-19 pandemic was boosting food and Medicaid benefits due to the “public health emergency.” Those benefits are set to be scaled way back.
During the public health emergency, benefits were boosted to their maximum possible amount for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Congress also passed legislation that ensured anyone enrolled in the Medicaid program — called Health First in Colorado — was guaranteed to keep their coverage during the emergency.
- As many as 5,538 county residents may lose their Medicaid eligibility starting in April.
- Those receiving benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will see benefits reduced dramatically starting in March.
- Eagle County currently has 1,272 individuals and 667 households using those food benefits.
- The Community Market, which addresses issues around food insecurity, food waste and sustainability, is providing food for around 4,000 people per week.
Learn more about the changes and options at eaglecounty.us
But those emergency measures are winding down, bringing worries that people will be put into dire straits buying food or seeking medical care.
March will be the first month with reduced food benefits. Medicaid renewals will begin in April. People receiving those benefits will have to reapply and have their eligibility redetermined.
According to a Feb. 20 report to the Eagle County Commissioners, those receiving food aid could see a reduction of $95 per person per month. The average reduction is expected to be about $90 per person per month. Eagle County currently has 1,272 individuals and 667 households using those food benefits.
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Melina Valsecia, director of the Eagle Valley Community Foundation, said she expects even more people to take advantage of the free food available at The Community Market in Edwards. The need is already great.
Valsecia said just last week people at the market picked up food to feed 4,000 people. That’s more people served than at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, she added.
That number is going to increase as food benefits are cut. Valsecia noted that many people have used The Community Market to supplement their family pantries. With the cut in benefits, she expects more people — who still have to pay rent and utility bills, and buy gasoline for more than $4 per gallon — to use the market for even more of their food needs.
Medicaid cutbacks will affect even more county residents. The county currently has 9,703 people using Medicaid benefits. Of those, 5,538 people will have to go through the redetermination process. Not all will be re-accepted into the program.
Eagle County Human Services Director Megan Burch told the county commissioners that “there’s been a lot of communication” with recipients. But, she added, “it’s still going to be a shock for a lot of people.”
Burch added that Medicaid disenrollments will begin in June. Those who can’t re-enroll, or don’t qualify for benefits, will have to go to the state’s health insurance exchange. But, she said, it’s also likely that people will be left without health insurance.
Working on education
Blanca Diaz, a manager with the county’s Division of Economic Services, said her office has also been reaching out to educate residents. But there are a lot of people to reach. Those who need to re-apply for the program make up roughly 10% of the county’s population. Many of those people don’t speak English as their first language.
The MIRA bus is another project of the Eagle Valley Community Foundation. That bus provides mobile health services and information to clients, 98% of whom are Spanish speakers.
Valsecia said the Medicaid disenrollments will put further stress on an already stressed source of alternatives and information. The local health care system “will be saturated,” she said.
Burch said her department has maintained a flyer about food resources and is sharing information via social media, the county’s website and in person.
While county officials are working to reach out to program beneficiaries, Burch said she expects staff members to field some angry phone calls, and has been providing “de-escalation” training for those people.
County officials are also reaching out to food aid providers.
At the update meeting, Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said people on the staff of Rep. Joe Neguse, who represents most of Eagle County, are working on ways to find waivers for Medicaid clients. But, she added, “That won’t happen by April.”
McQueeney asked Burch and Diaz to keep the commissioners informed through the coming months, adding that the elected officials may need to make adjustments to its current food bank donations.