Food stamp rates surge in Colorado
DENVER, Colorado ” A sure sign Coloradans are feeling the recession: more are using food stamps to buy groceries.
State officials say the number of people receiving government assistance for groceries grew by 19 percent last year, up by 8,000 people just between October to December.
“It’s really stunning; it’s really sad,” said Bill Thoennes, spokesman for the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment. There are now about 126,000 Coloradans with accounts for food stamps.
The Denver Post reports that the food stamp surge follows sharp job losses in Colorado. Some 14,600 people lost their jobs in October and November. State officials say that when December numbers are announced, they will show another 14,000 people lost their jobs.
The growth in food-stamp applications has led to a backlog that conveys distressed lives.
“I get a sense that people are starting to panic now,” said Margarita Marez, who takes food-stamp applications for people in the Commerce City office of Adams County Human Services. “They’ve been laid off, or they have just found some little job that pays less. They can’t make it on what they make.”
One of Colorado’s new food stamp recipients is 61-year-old Panfilo Ceniceros. The Thornton resident was laid off from his construction job last year.
“I’ve been looking for another job, but so far there is nothing,” Ceniceros told the newspaper while collecting food stamps at the Commerce City office. “I don’t feel good at all. We’ve never been in this situation.”
Food stamp recipients can have no more than $2,000 in any savings, retirement or checking account to qualify for food assistance.
Though state officials don’t consider a house or a car in that equation, when people get to their county offices for help, they’re usually down to very little, said Sue McGinn, director of the Food Stamp Program at the Colorado Department of Human Services.
Food stamp claims are supposed to be decided within a month, but the application surge has created backlogs. Seventeen percent of applications now have waits longer than 30 days. And in some areas, the wait is even longer.
In Jefferson County, nearly half of all applications made in December took longer than a month. Some counties are keeping food baskets on hand to dole out to extremely needy people while they wait.
The most desperate are put through an expedited application process. In Jefferson County, the number of expedited applicants grew to 934 in December, up 40 percent from a year earlier.
Still, the delay has angered some who say there state should have been better prepared..
“We’ve got a slow-moving man-made disaster here, and it’s not going away for a while,” said Ed Kahn, special counsel for the Colorado Center for Law and Policy, which tracks food-stamp application approvals statewide.