Rep. Joe Neguse visits Summit County to discuss inflation, mutual aid with local organizations

Rep. Joe Neguse speaks to local nonprofit leaders during a tour of the Family & Intercultural Resource Center's food market on Sunday, July 17, in Dillon.
Julie Sutor/Courtesy photo

Congressman Joe Neguse stopped by Dillon to meet with local nonprofit leaders about legislation that will impact working families in Colorado and across the country. 

Neguse toured the Family & Intercultural Resource Center on Sunday, July 17, to see the center’s food market. Following the tour, Neguse hosted a roundtable with various entities that support families in Summit County and surrounding communities. Neguse said that recently signed legislation, such as the Ocean Shipping Reform Act and the Keep Children Fed Act, should have impacts to help families soon. 

“(The Ocean Shipping Reform Act) will have a profound impact on the supply chain challenges, and in particular, essentially compelling international shipping carriers to no longer unreasonably deny receipt of or distribution of American goods,” Neguse said.

Oyuki Munoz, an economic security benefits case manager for the Summit County Human Services Department, said that though wages have increased for some, it still does not keep up with inflation and with the general higher cost of living in Summit County. Unfortunately, she said, some clients still do not qualify for federal assistance since there’s an income cap. 

“They’re coming in because rent is up, gas is up, everything is up,” Munoz said. “They just don’t qualify. The income levels are so low for this program, that unfortunately, I send them to other agencies to get that support. Sometimes those barriers become the stigma of having to go out and ask for food. It’s hard on these working families.

“These people are a combined household, they’re making $75,000, $80,000 a year. Obviously, in our community, that’s still not sufficient money to sustain a family of four, or even three. We’re bound by policy and income limits.”

Neguse said that other mountain communities in the state are facing the same issues, and he said he’s teamed up with colleagues in other high-cost states like New York to work on how to make federal programs more flexible.

“We have made that attempt, and it’s been an uphill battle,” he said.

Neguse said that the House of Representatives passed the Lower Fuel Costs and Food Costs Act in June, which aims to fund a number of USDA programs, reduce America’s dependence on foreign fertilizer production, strengthen competition in the meat and poultry sector and alleviate the supply chain bottlenecks and expand access to American-made fuel.

He said the bill is stuck in the Senate, but members of Congress will hopefully work toward a compromise. 

“That would make a big difference trying to lower the cost of fertilizer,” he said. “Again, it’s not the sort of big-ticket item you can read about as headlines, but it could have a very pronounced impact on food supply and trying to lower the cost of food production.”

Whitney Horner, the Women, Infants and Children director in Summit and Grand counties, said that mental health for parents should also be greatly considered when it comes to how state and national officials look at food shortages and inflation on families. This year, the House passed the Providing Urgent Maternal Protections Act, a bill that would expand workplace protections for employees with a need to express breast milk. Specifically, it expands the requirement that employers provide certain accommodations for salaried employees and other types of workers not covered under existing law. 

“The formula (shortage) has been one of the biggest strikes on maternal mental health that I’ve ever seen,” Horner said. “We’re now in this place of ‘We don’t know how we’re going to feed our children, and there might not be that option on the shelf.’”  

Neguse also said he supports legislation that would extend free lunch for school children. For the past two years, all children in schools received free lunch, but earlier this year, that provision expired. 

This summer, the Summit School District is offering free breakfast and lunch for any person 18 years or younger, even if they are not enrolled in any Summit School District schools. Every Monday to Friday until Aug. 12, meals will be served at the Silverthorne Elementary School Cafeteria, located at 101 Hamilton Creek Road.

There are also nonprofits such as Smart Bellies that help provide weekly meals.

“Each (piece of recent legislation) has discrete changes to the system that we’re trying to enact that we think will cool down the inflationary environment,” Neguse said.

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