SAN MIGUEL COUNTY – Turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and candied yams. We’re all familiar with the traditional trappings of a Thanksgiving table, but for more than 150 families in San Miguel County, this quintessential American holiday will be made possible with the help of federal dollars.
In case the lingering effects of the Great Recession are unclear, consider this: The number of low-income households in San Miguel County eligible for food stamp benefits through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program grew to 151 this past October. That number represents a 165 percent increase over the 57 county households to receive the benefits in October 2008, and a 76 percent increase over the 86 households to obtain the federal assistance at the end of October 2009 – three months after the Great Recession officially ended, in June 2009, according to an announcement from the National Bureau of Economic Research made this past September.
“Not based on the numbers that we’re seeing in our office,” said Allan Gerstle, director of Social Services for both San Miguel and Ouray Counties, when asked if he believed the recession was indeed behind us.
“Construction workers are not back to work, painters are not painting, plumbers are not plumbing,” he continued.
“We’re seeing people from main street businesses, we’re seeing real estate agents, construction workers and resort workers.”
In this time of certain uncertainty, however, one constant seems to be the expectation that more local residents will continue to need help making ends meet next year.
For that reason San Miguel County is expected to increase its Social Services budget by 30 percent, or about $279,000, from its initial 2010 budget, to meet the increased demand for food stamps and other services.
The majority of that money will come from state and federal sources.
“For 2011, we tried to guess what the benefits might be, so we don’t have to go back and do a budget amendment,” Gerstle explained.
“We’re seeing that every sector of the community seems to be less employed than it was in the past,” he said. “There are more families and individuals applying for benefits; people we’ve never seen before.”
Still, San Miguel County is not seeing a disproportionate number of cases compared to other counties throughout the state, Gerstle said.
In tiny Ouray County, the 57 households receiving SNAP benefits in September 2008 had more than doubled to 117 households this past September.
This past August, more than 424,000 people across the state participated in the Food Stamp Program, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation, a 21 percent increase from the same month one year prior, and a 33 percent increase over the 2009 monthly average program participation of 319,000 people.
Across the nation, more than 42 million people received food stamp assistance at the end of August, a 22 percent increase over the number of beneficiaries in June 2009, when the recession “officially” ended.
“When you go to a large metropolitan county and see dozens and dozens of people lined up, you realize how significant the problem is,” Gerstle said