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San Miguel County braces for SNAP benefits reduction

The Angel Basket, just off Telluride’s Main Street, is expecting to see an increase in demand, especially from older residents.
Gavin McGough
The Angel Basket, just off Telluride’s Main Street, is expecting to see an increase in demand, especially from older residents.

The easing and perhaps even the ending of the pandemic has been a welcome development.

But the transition comes with some difficulties, as COVID related government programs are ending.

One of those supports expired at the end of February when emergency SNAP benefits, or food stamps reverted to pre-pandemic levels.

Speaking at the end of February, Director of Social Services for San Miguel County, Carol Friedrich, explained that food stamp recipients started receiving extra funds when the pandemic set in.

“All of the folks that were receiving SNAP at the time were receiving two payments each month,” she said.

“So their regular allotment and their emergency assistance allotment. Next month, [March 2023,] there’s going to be a reduction to the amount they’re receiving, and it’s going to go back to their base level allotment.”

While other states have already ended the extra emergency allotments, they remained in place in Colorado and 35 other states.

Now, at the beginning of March, they have come to an end everywhere, and food stamps are going back to pre-pandemic levels.

Friedrich says the reductions are substantial.

“So the average reduction in benefits is about $95 per person within the household. That’s average. So, for instance, a family of four that was receiving that max allotment, their monthly benefit is going to decrease nearly four hundred dollars a month.”

That reduction is even more severe for senior residents who will see a more than $250 decrease in their monthly food stamp funding.

“We are most concerned about the impact this is going to have on our seniors. They were receiving $281 per month on their max allotment. Once that ends they are going to go down to their base allotment which is $23 a month. For these single seniors they are going to have a significant impact. Again, they’ll go from $281 per month to $23 per month,” said Friedrich.

Weathering the end of the emergency allotment may be difficult for many of San Miguel’s 200 SNAP recipients.

The reduction comes amidst high levels of inflation.

Food costs increased, on average, 10% between January 2022 and January 2023.

Meanwhile, the number of county residents receiving SNAP has increased by 80 individuals over pre-pandemic numbers, suggesting an increase in food insecurity.

Friedrich says the county is working to provide a one-time grocery card to residents on SNAP, but Friedrich says, this won’t be a cure-all.

“So we know that this is not a long term solution,” Friedrich concedes.

“Right now there are conversations at the state level to find a more systemic approach to meeting the needs of these folks, but for now what we are working on is a way to offer folks that are experiencing a hardship due to this decrease, especially that senior population, a one-time grocery card to make up some of the difference in a very short term period of time.”

Area food banks are bracing for the transition.

Speaking at the Angel Baskets Food Pantry in Telluride, volunteer Barb Gross says they are expecting to see an increase in demand, especially from older residents.

“Our senior population, numbers are gonna go up, because they really haven’t used us since they got that supplement,” said Gross.

“We are planning to do an outreach to them, and we’ll see how that goes. I’m guessing they needed us before, they’re gonna need us again." 

With the emergency allotment most seniors had enough money to cover their food costs.

Overall, however, Gross speculates other food pantries in the state are likely to see more of an impact.

In Telluride, food insecurity is often tied to the seasonal economy, affecting a younger, more transient population that is less likely to use food stamps in the first place, said Gross.

“It’s going to be a shock to some people, but, you know, we’ve kind of known this was coming. And I don’t know that it’s going to impact us that much except for the seniors. Because here’s what we are: we are very, very tied to the ski area as far as when that stops, jobs in town dry up, and we get really busy. If there’s no snow, and they can’t employee people, we get really busy. For example, I think Norwood will be more impacted,” she said.

Food banks across the region pool resources, Angel Baskets has a location in Norwood as well.

They accept donations in money, food, and volunteer time from all those who can give.

Looking at the food pantry’s north facing stoop, Gross adds anyone who’d like to come chip ice and shovel snow for a spell would be most welcome.

This story from KOTO was shared via Rocky Mountain Community Radio, a network of public media stations in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico including Aspen Public Radio.

Gavin McGough is a reporter at KOTO in Telluride.