US Sen. Hickenlooper collaborates with Summit County leaders, business owners on inflation woes
U.S. Sen. John Hickenlooper visited Silverthorne Wednesday to help local leaders and business owners find ways to address inflation, which is affecting the workforce in Summit County and surrounding communities.
The senator sat down with ski area leadership, elected officials, nonprofit leaders and business owners for an open discussion.
Some business owners said that finding staff is still an issue in mountain communities and that raising wages could not be the only solution.
As the desires of the workforce changes, Erin Young, a Silverthorne Town Council member and owner of Red Buffalo Coffee & Tea, said some business owners would say staffing challenges should be seen more as opportunities.
Chris Alleman, a Summit County School Board member, said that the struggles that businesses face when looking for workers are also being seen in local schools. Now, first-year teachers are making at least $50,000, but that base pay is still lower than the self-sufficiency standard.
“What happens when you start to have this mass exodus — which we are seeing in our rural communities, especially our resort communities — of teachers that are leaving, and they are not replaceable? We cannot replace them,” Alleman said. “They accept the job, and then they pick up the paper and try to find a place and say, ‘Nevermind, forget it.’”
Hickenlooper said that support for workforce training, such as apprenticeships, could provide some assistance.
“Every single worker wants to be trained,” Hickenlooper said. “They want a mentor — someone that’s older than them or has experience, and then they want to grow.”
A lot of social programs are based on wages, and several attendees at the town hall expressed concerns that when wages are raised just above cutoffs for assistance, lower-income citizens are then faced with large costs that were subsidized when they made just slightly less.
The area median income rose slightly in 2022 across Summit County, according to new area median income numbers released by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. That figure is used to determine rental prices and set limits for public assistance and affordable housing.
Vail Resorts recently announced that its workers will begin to earn a base rate of $20 per hour next ski season, and that wage hike sent a ripple effect across Summit County as more employers, like the town of Breckenridge, started looking at how to compete with the wage hike and rising inflation.
Summit County commissioners have been looking at ways to provide affordable housing to people who make above the current cut offs for public assisted housing options, which often range from 30% to 40% of the area median income or about $60,000 for a four-person household, according to the Summit Combined Housing Authority’s 2022 area median income report. There has been discussion to provide more affordable housing options for people making above that threshold.
Hickenlooper said that a gradual approach to social programs may work better in response to community concerns about wage increases and issues with public assistance. He said a gradual approach could help so that lower income families are not completely cut off if a wage-earner earns an extra few dollars per hour.
“My problem is in every federal agency, almost all your databases are 20-40 years old,” Hickenlooper added. “What it means is, when you’re talking about Medicaid or WIC, this is the 21st century — why isn’t it graduated, so every time you get a pay raise or you do a little better, you still lose a little bit of your health benefit, but not all of it, so there is always an incentive to do better.”
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