The Weld County Department of Human Services says its staff has worked overtime, after hours and weekends to meet an unprecedented demand for food assistance recently.
Weld County is leading the state with the highest increase -- a 48% jump -- in applications for SNAP, the federal food assistance program also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and formerly called food stamps.
Weld County is currently serving 14,436 SNAP cases, compared to managing 9,763 cases in 2019. The average SNAP benefit pre-pandemic was $290 per month, now it's $490.
Weld County's Assistance Payments Division Director Andie Garnand said, "Weld County, we're approving and adding roughly 200 SNAP cases a month and that's not counting the ones we cannot approve. So there's a lot of demand and a lot of folks that are struggling that need some help."
The rise in pandemic-era funding likely accounts for some of the increase, as people have considered the additional emergency allotments worth the effort of submitting an application, Garnand said. But the soaring cost of groceries has driven the surge in demand for SNAP benefits of recent months.
"We've seen spikes throughout the pandemic but this is probably the highest that we've seen and I think it's the state of the economy. The groceries. Any of us that go shopping now, you come out with three or four bags and you've spent $200. We're all shocked by that and so it's particularly impactful on our low income families that have such a tight budget."
Garnand says Weld County is preparing for monthly SNAP benefit amounts to drop starting in March. Theincludes an end to pandemic emergency allotments after February 2023.
So come March, Garnand expects the change will squeeze its clients and place new demands on area food banks.
"While this will likely reduce some of the applications, we are preparing for increased client contact as this will be impactful for families who have been relying on the additional benefit amount to feed their families," Garnand said.
Weld County is also experiencing a population boom. The cost of housing in other parts of the state may also be a cause of some of the demand for SNAP benefits seen in Weld County. Garnand said, "I do believe some families are seeking more affordable housing which can be found outside of the metro area."
To learn more and find if you might qualify for SNAP, visit https://cdhs.colorado.gov/snap
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