Only about half the eligible residents in Montezuma County have enrolled in the food stamp program, according to a report by Hunger Free Colorado.
The study looked at 64 counties to determine eligibility and enrollment for food stamps, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
In Montezuma County, 3,126 individuals are enrolled to receive SNAP benefits, which is 50 percent of those eligible, according to the report.
“Our goal is to bring that number up to national average of 75 percent enrollment,” said Joel McClurg, a policy analyst with Hunger Free Colorado.
To qualify, in general, an individual or family’s income must be at least 130 percent of the poverty level.
McClurg said Montezuma County’s participation in SNAP is pretty typical for medium-size counties, and there were no major problems. But he said there is room for improvement.
“Using best practices, more public education of the program, and improving efficiencies will help,” he said. “The study shows the county is missing out on up to $5 million in potential grocery sales.”
The Montezuma County SNAP program has seven full-time employees, each handling 450 cases, said social services director Josiah Forkner. To handle much more would require a bigger staff budget, of which 20 percent is paid for by the county and 80 percent by the state.
“The state (budget) allocation is not set up to handle a huge increase in cases, so that would need to be addressed,” Forkner said. “Our SNAP technicians do an amazing job keeping up with enrollment.”
The study showed Montezuma County does well handling applicants, scoring a 90.5 percent for timely processing of qualifying enrollees. The county cost of administrating the food stamp program is $86,381 per year, according to the study.
Statewide, 57 percent of those eligible are enrolled in SNAP, equalling 446,625 individuals, who generate $786 million in grocery sales.
Enrollment in food stamp programs has plateaued in recent years, McClurg said. In Colorado an attitude of “self-determination” keeps some eligible candidates from signing up.
Others might not be aware they qualify, and could use the help.
“What we tell people is that it is something you have paid into for years; it’s something we have earned to help make ends meet in tough times,” McClurg said.
Children in poverty especially benefit from food stamp programs, and improved nutrition reduces long-term health care problems and costs, he said.