Michael Bennet visits Eagle County to discuss and witness local COVID-19 response | VailDaily.com

Michael Bennet visits Eagle County to discuss and witness local COVID-19 response

Senator's trip included talks with officials about local pandemic response and trip to see The Community Market in action

The Community Market Director Kelly Liken describes the local food pantry operation to Sen. Michael Bennet during his visit to the Edwards site on Thursday.
Pam Boyd/pboyd@vaildaily.com

EDWARDS — Eagle County’s COVID-19 experiences and subsequent responses brought Sen. Michael Bennet to the valley Thursday.

The senator said what he had heard about Eagle County’s collaborative response to the pandemic convinced him to visit the area. Once he got here, he also witnessed the cooperative efforts by community groups dedicated to feeding residents during the pandemic.

The trip also gave him a chance to present his plan to help address the national economic crisis.

“Eagle County got hit earlier than elsewhere in the state and in the country as a whole,” Bennet said. Once it was forced by circumstances to become a pioneer of the COVID-19 response, the county had to develop a collaborative approach to testing, treatement and safety measures. Now that the initial COVID-19 impact has passed, Bennet noted the county is forging the reopening path.

During a morning meeting, Bennet heard from various community health, business and government leaders who detailed the county’s COVID-19 response efforts. He then ventured out into the community to see the local COVID-19 outreach in action at The Community Market.

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As the senator arrived, the doors opened for the Thursday market session at Edwards Plaza. The market is open from 1 to 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays in the space leased by My Future Pathways.

“We are seeing deep food insecurity in the state of Colorado and across the United States of America,” Bennet said. “All over Colorado, people are relying on food pantries like this one, people who have never had to use them before.”

Food insecurity

The numbers compiled by The Community Market support Bennet’s assertion. According to Kelly Liken, director of the program, The Community Market has seen a 375% increase in use since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are feeding 3,800 people a week now and we have not seen that level off,” Liken said. “We are very proud to be a no-barrier organization. There are no qualifiers to use our service.”

The Community Market welcomes anyone who can benefit from the pantry program and accepts donations from local grocery stores and restaurants. Additionally, the program has partnered with local restaurants to supplement its inventory with pre-prepared meals. Liken noted the market pays local businesses $8 per serving for these meals — basically a break-even price for the participating restaurants but a sum that helps them keep their staff members employed. The idea is to help both food shoppers and suppliers, Liken said.

“We are so dependent here in the valley on the hospitality industry and the hospitality industry is so dependent on service workers,” she said. “Our customer here is typically a local worker in the service industry and most of them have families and are struggling to make ends meet.”

Federal assistance

While programs such as The Community Market are providing vital services during this national time of need, Bennet said the federal government must also to step up to help citizens.

“The most important thing we can do for families and for farmers and ranchers is to increase the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefit,” said Bennet. “That is the most efficient way to get families benfits.”

It’s also the focus of his most recent legislation.

Bennet’s website details his proposal.

 “My plan expands food assistance and eliminates barriers to accessing that necessary assistance when the economy is deteriorating like it is today, and increases access permanently across the nation,” Bennet said. “As the harmful impact of this pandemic on our economy continues, we must act urgently to provide nutritional assistance to our nation’s most vulnerable families, and particularly our children. We should never allow the kind of severe hardship we are seeing in America today, with our food banks strained to a breaking point as families wait in line for hours on end just to be able to eat.” 

Bennet’s proposal includes two primary tenets:

  • Increasing the maximum SNAP benefit by 15%, providing additional funding for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations, and eliminating work requirements during recessions. This includes through the end of the COVID-19 public health crisis and thereafter, until the unemployment rate declines near to where it was before the crisis began.
  • Ensuring the use of broad-based categorical eligibility so that more vulnerable families can access SNAP benefits, even outside of a crisis. 

Additionally, Bennet’s proposal includes an automatic stabilization framework versus a hard deadline. That means the people who have qualified for assistance wouldn’t automatically be cut off from benefits after a specific time. Instead, the benefits continue as outside forces demand and then expire when the need lessens.

His bill is called the “Food for Families in Crisis Act of 2020. A detailed description of the plan is available HERE. Draft legislative text is available HERE.   

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