More than 1 in 3 Coloradans struggling to afford food amid COVID-19 crisis, poll finds


    File photo. (Scott Heins/Getty Images)

    A bipartisan group of advocates and state lawmakers is calling on Colorado’s congressional delegation to support an expansion of federal food-stamp programs, as a new poll shows an unprecedented number of Coloradans struggling with food insecurity.

    Roughly a third of Coloradans report struggling to provide enough food in their household within the last three months, and 35% say they’ve been unable to afford balanced, healthy meals, according to a survey released July 28 by advocacy group Hunger Free Colorado.

    The economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic has been particularly hard on children. Among Colorado parents, nearly a quarter reported having to cut back on meals for their children in the last month because they didn’t have enough money for food, the poll found.

    “That is just devastating, because we know that inadequate nutrition for children has impacts on health and well-being well into adulthood,” said Marc Jacobson, CEO of Hunger Free Colorado.

    As negotiations over a new round of federal COVID-19 relief legislation continue in Washington, Jacobson was joined by other advocates and state officials on July 29 to urge Congress to include a temporary 15% increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits as part of any new bill.

    Andrea, a Colorado entrepreneur who asked to be identified only by her first name, has relied on food stamps to feed her family since the pandemic forced her to close several of her small businesses earlier this year. But while Congress in March authorized “emergency allotments” that temporarily increased benefits for some SNAP recipients, it still hasn’t been enough for many families.

    “Like so many others, about two and a half weeks into my normal SNAP benefits, that’s when the pantry starts to get really, really barren,” Andrea said. “I do see, every week, people who on the forums I’m on are just begging for any food that’s available. This has to increase so more people can buy the food that they need.”

    SNAP enrollment in Colorado has surged more than 20% since the onset of the pandemic earlier this year. Erin Pulling, CEO of Food Bank of the Rockies, said that while her organization is currently distributing nearly 10 million pounds of food per month — enough to provide about 300,000 meals per day — the capacity of private food banks to feed hungry and food-insecure Coloradans pales in comparison with SNAP’s reach.

    “We know that we can’t food-bank our way out of this pandemic,” Pulling said. “SNAP actually provides nine meals for every one meal that a food bank provides.”

    A 15% boost for SNAP benefits was included in the HEROES Act, a bill passed by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives in May, and Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet has also endorsed such a measure. The HEALS Act, a Republican proposal unveiled earlier this week, does not include a SNAP expansion.

    But state Sen. Larry Crowder, a Republican from Alamosa, said Wednesday that with many rural Coloradans, in particular, struggling amid the COVID-19 crisis, expanding the program is common sense.

    “I think this is a simple ask,” said Crowder. “With the COVID-19 that we are facing right now, with the unemployment as it is, and the under-employment as it is, I think a 15% increase in SNAP is well within any logical person’s realm.”