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Agencies in Chaffee County and elsewhere across the state are scrambling to find food resources solutions in the wake of the cutback of the extra pandemic food assistance programs nationwide. People in Chaffee County are pitching in to help their neighbors who may be food insecure.

Free Food Pantry box at the Salida Elks Lodge. Courtesy photo.

Since March of 2020, people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have received increased allotments of food stamps. But last week, as had been announced in early February, the program was moved back to earlier allotment levels, with a significant impact.

The Denver Post reported recently the so-called emergency allotments were due to end in May along with the federal pandemic public health emergency declaration, but Congress opted to end it earlier.

In Colorado, that means SNAP benefits will see a $53 million reduction overall, or at least $90 per month per person, per household. The Post reported payments averaged about $538 per household in January. At least 553,000 people in 291,000 households benefited, according to the Post.

AVV previously reported the reduction would amount to the average family of four on SNAP benefits seeing a reduction of $360 per month. Mandy Jackson, Chaffee County Human Services supervisor of eligibility for the SNAP program said while the coming changes were well-advertised, many people were caught off guard by the reductions.

“We were actually pretty lucky; Gov. Polis, he kept approving – it was month to month for quite a while; so the last several months we wouldn’t know before the end of the month if we were getting approved for next month and then they (Congress) decided February would be the last month,” she said.

In Chaffee County, there are 1,165 cases, or households on the SNAP list.

The Impacts of Returning to Pre-Pandemic Assistance Levels

As the rules are remanded back to pre-pandemic levels, Jackson pointed out the impact on the most vulnerable residents.

“An elderly person, living in low-income housing (food assistance is based on a persons’ gross income minus their shelter expenses). Someone who lives in low-income housing, they only get the minimum amount of food assistance, which is $23; but for the last several years, three years, they’ve been getting $281 [per month], so that’s a pretty significant difference.”

“There were some families who were getting like a thousand dollars, and now they’re only getting like $100,” Jackson added.

Jackson said although it’s the first week of the rule change, she has already heard from some clients. “We have heard people just tell us, straight out, ‘We don’t know how we’re going to make it.’”

FreeFood Pantry box in front of 217 E St. Courtesy photo.

Jackson said even though rules are going back to ‘normal’ prior levels of assistance, the impact of inflation can’t be ignored. “…the harsh reality is our food prices are so high, so food assistance three years ago probably went a little farther than it’s going right now.”

“So I really do think that this is going to be a significant impact on households,” she predicted.

Free Food Pantries Help fill the Void

Inspiringly, Jackson and others have mounted an effort to help directly by providing so-called ‘free pantries,’ – small cabinets where people can donate non-perishable food and those in need can find needed food.

Jackson has a collection of old newspaper boxes, two of which were adapted as food pantries. She and a friend assembled the two in operation near downtown now, in front of the Elks Lodge and at a private residence at 217 E Street.

She hopes to inspire others to do the same thing, offering the old boxes for free to anyone who wants them for a neighborhood food pantry. She has a Facebook website:  Jackson said those pantries get cleaned out daily as an example of the need in the community.