Bill Falvey would laugh at the paltry amount of his new monthly SNAP food benefit, if it didn’t hurt so much. Or maybe cry if he thought it would help.
But it wouldn’t make a difference in the $23 he now receives following February’s end to the Covid-era aid boost from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“It might as well be nothing,” said Falvey, who lives in Boulder. “To put it in real terms, I can go shopping twice a year,” if he lets the benefit accumulate long enough.
Falvey, 74, has received federal food assistance for about three years, since a “botched” cataract surgery left him legally blind in one eye, while he has macular degeneration in the other eye. His only other regular income is $1,890 per month in Social Security benefits.
Benefits, though, reverted to the pre-pandemic amount as part of a deal Congress struck in last year’s federal omnibus spending bill. Cuts average about $90 monthly per person, officials say, but as Falvey has seen, it can be much more.
SNAP benefits are federally determined based on income and family size, so local officials have no say in benefit amounts. (Eligibility information from the Colorado Department of Human Services states that the maximum allowable monthly gross income for an individual is $2,266, generating a maximum monthly SNAP benefit of $281. For a family of four, a monthly gross income of $4,626 can yield $939 in food benefits.)
“People will have to get reused to the income they had before,” said Jim Williams, a communications specialist at Boulder County Housing & Human Services, no matter how difficult.
And starting in May, the federal government is once again requiring people to recertify eligibility for Medicaid (or Health First Colorado). The annual recertification requirement was suspended during Covid, allowing for continuous coverage. More than 84,000 people in Boulder County received Medicaid in 2022, Williams said.
“It is difficult to know how many people will be impacted in the Medicaid program, as their eligibility will only be known when they recertify,” he added.
While some states are redetermining eligibility for all recipients at the same time, Colorado is rolling out recertification over the coming year at a recipient’s normal renewal month, said Marc Williams, public information officer with the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.
The state will provide Medicaid recipients 60 to 70 days advance notice for each monthly renewal cycle, and those who don’t ensure their records are up to date “will be terminated on the last day of their recertification month,” he said. (Renewal packets will come in the mail and online at CO.gov/PEAK. Recipients can find their renewal month here.)
Colorado Medicaid annual income limits will increase April 1, 2023, from $17,000 to $19,000 for one person, and be boosted from $35,000 to $40,000 for a family of four.
But inevitably, some recipients will find they no longer qualify for Medicaid, yet their income isn’t high enough to afford private insurance.
Together, the changes are adding new financial pressures to people in Boulder County already living at the financial edge. “These changes represent yet another obstacle to people trying to stay afloat,” Jim Williams, of the county, said.
The impact of the end of pandemic programs, on top of inflation and high housing costs, is already being felt. Eviction filings in Boulder are at the highest level in three years, an analysis by Boulder Reporting Lab found, and reliance on area food banks is surging.
“We are already seeing an overwhelming increase in our food pantry visits,” said Kammi Siemens, director of programs at Emergency Family Assistance Association. EFAA operates the food bank serving Boulder and mountain communities. Before Covid, EFAA served about 300 to 360 households a week, she said. “Now we are averaging 500 households per week. We think it’s the new normal.”
“It’s very stressful and painful for these families not to provide the food for their families that they would like. This affects the kids’ basic nutrition,” Siemens said.
County officials decry the cuts, but say there is nothing they can do. “We have to respond to whatever the changes are at the federal level,” Jim Williams noted.
He expects more impact from SNAP cuts than Medicaid recertification because everyone must eat. Individual Medicaid usage varies sharply, depending on the kind and amount of medical care needed.
With hands tied on providing more funds, officials urge people to look at their options immediately.
Chief among them are food pantries, which provide free food, so recipients don’t need to pay using their SNAP benefits.
The area is served by five food banks: EFAA in Boulder and mountain communities; Sister Carmen Community Center in Lafayette; OUR Center in Longmont; Nederland Food Pantry; Women, Infant and Children (WIC) program.
Clients can go to any particular food bank once a week, but Siemens points out that people can go to several to scratch off items on their grocery lists. In fact, the officials recommend that people having trouble affording basic foods go to food banks first, especially in the wake of the SNAP reductions, and follow up in a regular supermarket only for what they can’t find at a pantry. Eggs, meat and dairy can be scarce.
“A single person can get enough food at food banks, but if they have a large family, it might not be enough,” said Walter O’Toole, EFAA’s food bank manager.
People can also take advantage of the state’s Double Up Bucks Colorado program. The program doubles the value of eligible SNAP purchases for fresh fruits and vegetables bought at participating farmers markets and grocery stores, up to $20 per day. Participating grocers locally are Ideal Market and the North Boulder Whole Foods store.
Low-income Coloradans over age 60 also qualify for Everyday Eats , a federal food support program that aims to keep healthy food staples in home kitchens. It provides a monthly package of cereal, canned goods and dairy products.
Colorado Medicaid recertification requires immediate action on Colorado PEAK
With Medicaid recertification beginning shortly, Marc Williams, of the state, said it is urgent for people to visit Colorado PEAK right away to update their information, gather any needed documentation and find their renewal date.
PEAK is Colorado’s central website to apply for and manage state-administered benefits, such as Health First Colorado, the state’s Medicaid program; SNAP; bus fare discounts; cash assistance; help with child care, education and development needs for families with children; and help paying winter heating bills.
“What you don’t want is for someone to get sick or injured, and find out in the hospital that they are not covered” because the state could not reach them, Marc Williams said. “There are bad consequences, but they are all preventable by being proactive.”
He urged those updating to opt-in for text and email notices from the state because cell phone numbers and email addresses typically change less often than home addresses.
Jim Williams suggested those who learn they no longer qualify for Medicaid contact Connect for Colorado, the state’s Affordable Care Act marketplace for discounted or subsidized health insurance coverage.
Connect for Colorado, he said, “provides access to all the services they would have had under Medicaid, but the premiums aren’t nearly as high” as private health insurance would be. Premiums can be as low as $10 to $40 monthly, depending on income and circumstances, noted Marc Williams.
Falvey expects that he will requalify for Medicaid, and he’s looking into how he can make better usage of local food supports. He plans to speak soon with EFFA. But he doesn’t see much relief for his basic situation, so “I will cut back on food. I will have to limit doing anything outside for entertainment.”
O’Toole, of EFAA, acknowledges that the support system isn’t perfect, but says the county is working hard to make sure no one goes hungry. “Our goal is for people to have equitable access to nutritious food. We are not where we need to be, but we weren’t before, either.”
For more information about the Medicaid (Health First Colorado) recertification process, which starts May 2023, visit Boulder County’s website for instructions and list of resources.