New data shows improvement in food stamp access across Colorado, but need for progress remains

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One year after the release of the first-ever Food Stamp Impact Reports, Colorado counties have measurably improved enrollment for eligible residents, but the state still ranks 45th nationally for access in the program.

Hunger Free Colorado released its annual Food Stamp Impact Reports for all 64 counties today that detail the efficiency and effectiveness of the state-supervised, county-administered program, federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP. Through efforts to improve outreach and customer service, 44 counties have increased performance, raising the statewide Program Access Index (PAI) from 56% to 59%, the 11th best national ranking for improvement.

Shopping-Cart-Food-IconEven with the positive momentum, Colorado continues to fall below the national average of 74%, leaving more than 350,000 Coloradans who may be eligible for food stamps without needed assistance. Though the monthly funds are modest — averaging $1.40 per person, per meal — food stamps remain the primary tool for addressing hunger for millions in the U.S. A growing body of national research shows the importance of food stamps’ role in supporting individuals and communities, such as improving short- and long-term health outcomes, lowering health care costs, promoting work and economic stability, enhancing academic performance and early childhood education outcomes, helping seniors maintain their independence, and boosting local economic activity, such as grocery sales.

“The Colorado state legislature and counties have taken positive strides in the last year, yet one in eight Coloradans still struggle with hunger,” said Kathy Underhill, CEO of Hunger Free Colorado. “It’s important that we continue to build a strong, effective food assistance program to ensure people of all ages and backgrounds can get the nutritional support for optimum health and well-being at every stage of life.”

An important investment at the state level was the passage of Senate Bill 190. This bipartisan legislation focused on improving the efficiency and effectiveness of food stamps across Colorado. Signed into law in June 2016, it was sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee, passed with unanimous support, and united a diverse array of stakeholders from health, faith-based, senior-focused, agriculture and economic-focused entities.

The newly released Food Stamp Impact Reports compare each county’s performance with the state and national averages for the following: enrollment, economic impact, and timely and accurate application processing. The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, an independent, third-party entity, performed enrollment data analysis for the reports. The analysis follows the same method as the USDA performance measures used to award bonuses to well-performing states.

Highlights from the released data include:

  • Though some individual counties fall short, Colorado is meeting the federal standard for timely processing of 95%; the state has been above this benchmark for 12 consecutive months.
  • 44 of 64 counties saw improved estimates for their enrollment of low-income, eligible Coloradans since the last report release.
  • There is disparity among county performance with enrollment ranging from 12% to 94% of eligible Coloradans.
  • Colorado continues to rank 45th in the nation for access to food stamps and falls below the national average of 74% for enrollment, with nearly half of those eligible missing out on the nutrition they need (59%).
  • Colorado leaves millions of dollars on the federal table and loses more than $269 million annually in grocery sales.

“Everyone has a role to play. Federal nutrition programs, along with state and local counterparts, each contribute to improving food assistance to build a strong foundation for Coloradans,” said Underhill. “Food stamps continues to be one of the most efficient and effective ways of addressing hunger in our state and provides residents with the essential resource of healthy, affordable food to weather life’s storms.”

Based upon all of the available data and research, Hunger Free Colorado recommends the following solutions to benefit all in the state:

  • Improve upon food stamp access and enrollment, so Colorado is at least in-line with or above the national average of 74%.
  • Increase collaboration between counties to identify and implement best practices that allowed nine counties to exceed 85% estimated enrollment of eligible Coloradans, such as processing applications the same day that they are received by county human services offices and partnering with community organizations to better promote the program locally
  • Provide greater transparency and efficiency within the state-supervised, county-based system

“We still have a lot of room for improvement as a state,” shared Underhill. “By continuing to work together to improve food stamp access, enrollment and administration, we can ensure all Coloradans can get the fuel they need to reach their potential.”

View the Food Stamp Impact Reports for Colorado counties and all sources at HungerFreeColorado.org/Impact-Reports. For additional data on county performance in other support services, visit GapMap.org.


WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Use your voice to help strengthen your community and ensure all Coloradans have access to nutritious food! Join us for “Hungry for Change: Day at the Capitol” on Tuesday, Feb. 7, and find other ways to take action.

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