Colorado flunks in food stamp access, report says
Just more than half of Coloradans eligible for food stamps are receiving the assistance, placing Colorado near the bottom of states in the ability to get food to the needy.
Colorado ranks 46th in the nation in the latest food stamp report from Hunger Free Colorado, released Thursday. The national average is 75 percent of eligible people receiving food stamps, compared with Colorado’s 57 percent.
“It needs to become more of a priority in Colorado,” said Michelle Ray, communications director for Hunger Free Colorado. “There are long- standing issues with the administration of food stamps in our state and access for thosewho are eligible.
“At minimum, we should be average.”
Colorado has improved since 1994, when just 36 percent of people eligible for food stamps were receiving them. Still, Colorado’s state- supervised, countybased system for enrolling people in the food assistance program underperforms compared with the rest of the country.
Colorado’s food stamp program has long faced criticism over delays in processing applications and spending practices. The state struggled for years to comply with federal standards for processing foodstamp applications. Last year, Colorado agreed to pay the federal government $ 1 million and make changes to its benefits management system to settle a complaint that the state misused money in the program.
For the first time, Hunger Free Colorado released county- specific data, revealing a vast range in counties’ abilities to get food stamps to people who need them.
Pitkin County had the lowest enrollment in the state at 10 percent. El Paso County, meanwhile, was among the highest- performing, enrolling 71 percent of eligible people. Denver County was at 59 percent, according to the analysis based on 2013 data.
The report also found major differences across counties in the costs reported for enrollment in food assistance. In Boulder County, it costs the county $ 286 per enrollee, while in Pueblo County, the per- person cost is $ 80, according to the report.
Nationally, 12 other states besides Colorado have county- run systems, and none ranked in the top 25 percent in the report. That raises questions about states’ ability to provide proper oversight, Ray said.
“This data can be a great conversation starter with counties and communities so we can figure out what are the barriers a county is facing,” she said.
Officials at the Colorado Department of Human Services, which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, said they had not yet thoroughly reviewed the report but emphasized “the importance of ensuring the economic well- being” of needy families.
“We work closely with counties to ensure Coloradans in need are receiving the right amount of benefits in a timely fashion and are committed to continuous improvement on food assistance measures,” said Robert Thompson, communications director.
Hunger Free Colorado estimated Colorado loses more than $ 686 million in annual grocery sales by not serving all of those eligible for food stamps.