Need for assistance rises quickly in Grand County |

Need for assistance rises quickly in Grand County

Tonya Bina
Sky-Hi News
Grand County, CO Colorado
Byron Hetzler/Sky-Hi Daily News
ALL | Sky-Hi Daily News

Those affected by an 8 percent unemployment rate in Grand County are leaning heavily on public services, with Social Services reporting increases in need across its menu of offerings.

Social Services is handling 729 cases of food assistance, Medicaid and adult financial assistance, a 30 percent increase from the number of cases last year, according to Grand County Social Services Director Glenn Chambers.

The number of people eligible for food-assistance programs alone in Grand County increased by 165 percent from the start of 2009 to the start of 2010.

“The trend is that single adult folks who lost their jobs are applying for food assistance,” Chambers said.

For all services, Grand County’s Social Services department averages about 20 to 25 new cases every month.

Medicaid reimbursements increased 37 percent from March 2009 to March 2010, mostly with more families enrolling young children in government-assisted health programs such as Child Health Plan Plus, Chambers said.

And the number of applicants for Low Income Energy Assistance also increased, from 159 applications last year to 209 in 2010.

As caseloads keep growing, Chambers said he has noticed older cases closing due to families moving away from Grand County. Chambers estimated roughly 10 percent of his department’s longer term clients have packed up and moved on.

Meanwhile, there has been an influx of need from established residents, many who have never before sought Social Services assistance, Chambers said.

Unemployment persists

With a persistent sluggish job market, and with unemployment benefits about to run out for many, the Colorado Workforce Housing office in Granby is holding roundtables at the Granby Library on a monthly basis informing residents about updates on available public services.

“It’s still a pretty tough job market,” said community worker Lorraine Waters of the Colorado Workforce. “There’s a lot of competition.”

Although some laid-off workers are hoping things pick up in their own fields, such as in construction – which looks to be “moving, but very slowly,” Waters said – she is now seeing openings in the service industry, with employers searching for housekeepers, front-desk positions and a “smattering” of restaurants owners looking for workers.

Whatever the job, “We encourage people to keep applying. Be as prepared as possible and be ready to go into an interview, and don’t give up,” she said.

As more benefits are running out, however, “It’s going to be interesting in the next few months,” she said.

Construction industry ‘hardest hit’

The Mountain Family Center, which provides rent, utility and food assistance to families in need in the community, has been trying to keep up with the requests for rent and utility assistance, according to Executive Director Jill Korkowski.

At the food bank, which is presently “well-stocked,” Korkowski said, the center is “still seeing new people as well as people who haven’t yet recovered from the construction industry. We see new people every day,” she said.

The construction industry constituted roughly 23 percent of the workforce in Grand County prior to the recession, and Colorado Workforce employees guess that about 90 percent of those who are unemployed in Grand County lost construction-related jobs.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that construction was the hardest hit up here,” said Lisa Pederson of Colorado Workforce.

For some construction workers, the decision about whether to stay in the county or move could hinge on whether clients pay up on outstanding bills, Pederson said.

Anecdotally, Pederson said she has heard that since children have completed the school year, some of those families are planning to move away.

– Tonya Bina can be reached at 970-887-3334 ext. 19603 or e-mail

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