© 2022 Aspen Public Radio
APR20_webHeader_FallVersion9-08-2020 copy
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Aspen Public Radio will keep you informed on the latest information about the coronavirus here in Colorado and the Valley.

Months Into Pandemic, Many In Pitkin County Still Need Financial Assistance

Alex Hager
Aspen Public Radio

Pitkin County’s COVID Emergency Relief Fund has distributed $2.28 million in assistance since the pandemic took hold in March. At the end of June, the program was suspended. Officials said it was designed as a short-term emergency program while other aid organizations built capacity for longer-term help. 

The county’s human services department sent out a survey to about 2,300 individual email addresses of people who received emergency funds, and about 250 people responded as of late July. Those results provide a window into the economic status of those who needed help. Here are the main takeaways from the numbers. 

More financial help needed

According to the survey, 43% of people said they got the assistance they needed. But another 45% of people said they still need help to meet their monthly household expenses, and about half of those people said they aren’t able to cover their housing cost. 

Credit Pitkin County Human Services
According to the survey, 43% of recipients said "No, I/we do not need more assistance" (orange). Another 45% said "Yes, I still need assistance" (red, blue).

Job security worries continue 

While the survey shows people are gaining confidence that they will be able to pay for housing in the future, employment is a major worry. More than a third of people said they aren’t hopeful they’ll return to normal work in the next few months.

The industries hit the hardest

It’s no surprise that with hotels and restaurants shut down, people who worked in hospitality and dining were at the top of the list for people who were laid off. Two thirds of all people who responded to the survey worked in hospitality and dining. Another 26% of layoffs came from people working in ski operations or with airport and shuttle operations. 

Credit Pitkin County Human Services
According to the survey, the majority of people who filed for assistance were working in hospitality and dining when the pandemic began.

Those seeking national and statewide assistance might not get it

Since the county’s emergency fund was suspended at the end of June, people will have to turn to other organizations for temporary help. That includes federal and statewide agencies such as Medicaid, Colorado Works and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP

These programs have specific standards for who qualifies. A lot of the income thresholds that determine whether or not you can get that money don’t make sense in Pitkin County, where the median household income is $71,244, among the highest in the nation. 

“There is a segment of the population that gets left out of these assistances because their income may now have returned and they’re over income for the programs, or their income may have decreased but not to the point that they’re eligible for these programs,” said Samuel Landercasper, economic assistance manager at Pitkin County Department of Human Services.

Landercasper said the county ended its relief fund because it was never meant to be permanent. It was designed, Landercasper said, to “act as a bridge during the initial surge of need.” 

Alex is KUNC's reporter covering the Colorado River Basin. He spent two years at Aspen Public Radio, mainly reporting on the resort economy, the environment and the COVID-19 pandemic. Before that, he covered the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery for KDLG in Dillingham, Alaska.