Inflation, low wages pushed more people ‘than ever before’ to seek financial assistance in Summit County, nonprofit says
Family & Intercultural Resource Center says visits grew by 116% year over year, and the nonprofit is bracing for the future as pandemic-era benefits are set to expire.
Six years ago, Brianne Snow would describe 24 visits to her nonprofit’s food market as a busy day. Today, busy looks more like 363 daily visits.
That increase exemplifies the pressure Summit County’s largest nonprofit, the Family & Intercultural Resource Center, is currently facing as the need for vital services from food to healthcare to mental health skyrocket, staff say.
“The general consensus of feeling around (the resource center) is tired,” said Snow, the nonprofit’s executive director. “We have a lot of challenges.”
In 2022, the resource center, based in Silverthorne, served 9,992 people — nearly a third of the county’s population, according to the nonprofit’s data. But its reach is likely even more than that, with data showing a 2.5 average household size for each client.
The heightened demand has manifested throughout the various arms of the resource center’s health and social service programs in past months. For example, the nonprofit saw 1,817 visitors to its food bank this past December, up from 841 in December 2021, data shows. That’s a 116% increase year over year.
Snow said she sees the increase being driven by a slew of cascading crises that have only been exacerbated since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before then, Snow said she saw the resource center’s role more as a stopgap service for residents who needed help for a short period of time. Now, the nonprofit has evolved into a full-fledged safety net that many in the community rely on to survive, Snow said.
“We weren’t dealing with inflation, we weren’t dealing with gas prices,” Snow said, “housing was expensive but now it’s expensive and nonexistent.”
And wages “are not keeping up with the cost of living, and therefore folks need much more help for a much longer period of time,” Snow added.
Carla Decker, the nonprofit’s director of programs, said clients who schedule appointments with resource center staff usually come with multiple needs.
But a tight budget and slim staff have made it a struggle for the nonprofit to keep up.
“We’ve had to put a cap on how many people we can take,” Decker said. “I wish we could help everyone who walks through our doors … we are serving more people than ever before.”
And the nonprofit isn’t expecting the demand to ease. Impending cut offs to pandemic-era benefits could lead to even more community need, nonprofit staff said.
That includes Medicaid recipients who, since March 2020, have been automatically enrolled each year in the federal program designed to provide healthcare to low-income residents.
With the end of the pandemic’s emergency declaration, automatic enrollment will also sunset in the coming months — meaning Medicaid users will have to reapply for the program and could face losing access depending on how their income may have changed in recent years, Decker said.
And even for recipients who may still qualify for Medicaid, Drake said the extra bureaucratic steps needed to reapply could disincentivize users from doing so.
Another shrinking federal benefit that’s left the nonprofit bracing for the future is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as SNAP. Like Medicaid, the program was bolstered during the pandemic to mitigate COVID-19’s health and economic impacts on low-income recipients by boosting maximum monthly food payments.
But come March 1, many recipients will see their payments drop by roughly $90 per person. For a family of four, that translates to a reduction of $360 per month.
With current and future challenges lying ahead, the resource center has made a push for as many volunteers as it can. Nancy Higuera, the resource center’s food market manager, said nearly every available shift at the food market was filled this past week.
The nonprofit has also made efforts to expand its services where it can, said Drake, who added that the resource center has introduced seven new programs in recent months including support groups for parents and pregnant clients.
But it will take more seismic shifts than the resource center can muster before it sees a significant reduction in those coming for its services.
Nonprofit data shows the average reported household income of a client was $30,964 — above the federal poverty level of $22,290. But by the resource center’s calculations, those clients, who have an average household size of 2.5, would need to be making roughly triple their income — more than $93,000 — to be considered financially “self sufficient” in the county.
Until wages increase and cost of living goes down, Snow said the need will remain high.
“We’re seeing clients that need way more services in order to even think about being stable,” Snow said.
Interested in volunteering at the Family & Intercultural Resource Center? Information can be found on the nonprofit’s website at tinyurl.com/FIRCVolunteer.
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