Pandemic assistance pushed Garfield County welfare payments over $3M in December |

Pandemic assistance pushed Garfield County welfare payments over $3M in December

Special pandemic food assistance for qualified Garfield County residents was the main reason the county saw its biggest single monthly public assistance payout ever in December.

A typical month for pass-through electronic funds and benefits transfers (EFT/EBT) from the state to welfare recipients’ in the county is usually between $1 million and $1.5 million.

That amount surpassed $3.3 million in December, driven in large part by a one-time disbursement of nearly $2 million in pandemic food assistance authorized by the state last summer, Garfield County Human Services Director Sharon Longhurst Pritt said during a Monday meeting with county commissioners.

Because the year-end payments came directly from the state without county-level approval, and were for multiple months, the overall payout was much larger than usual in December, she said.

Public assistance funds do not come from the county, but are passed through the county Department of Human Services from the state and federal government.

County DHS typically screens clients for regular monthly food and energy (LEAP) assistance, but the special pandemic food assistance was approved through the state.

County commissioners had asked for more information on the larger payout amount when the numbers first came through Longhurst Pritt’s monthly report Jan. 17. She returned with the explanation at a special meeting on Monday.

“Our regular monthly food benefits were in line with what we’ve been seeing the last couple of years,” she said. That amount came to a little over $1 million.

In December, the state also issued additional benefits to qualified families with children using the state free and reduced school lunch matrix, she said.

“This benefit was in response to additional food assistance approved for the summer months of 2021,” Longhurst Pritt said.

The per-child benefit increased to $375 for school-aged children and $942 for children under the age of 6, she said.

A total of 5,234 children in Garfield County received pandemic food assistance under that program, she said.

“The disbursements come directly from the state and are loaded onto an individual’s EBT card,” Longhurst Pritt further explained. “There are times when DHS has awareness of this happening and other times this has happened outside a county level.”

Commissioner Tom Jankovsky expressed frustration with what he felt was a lack of transparency on the state’s part.

“It’s just shocking to see this happen, and we don’t even know about it,” he said, adding that county taxpayers indirectly foot the public assistance bill through state and federal taxes and inflation.

Senior meals update

Meanwhile, Longhurst Pritt also reported Monday that DHS is preparing a contract with a Basalt vendor that will allow Garfield County to resume senior meals programs in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale.

The vendor is the same one that services senior meals programs in Pitkin and Eagle counties, she said.

Congregate meals and a handful of home meal deliveries provided on the eastern end of the county were suspended earlier this month while a new vendor was sought to replace Sunlight Mountain Resort, which had been preparing and delivering meals to Glenwood for home distribution.

Congregate meal sites in Glenwood Springs and Carbondale had already been suspended during the pandemic, but may resume as soon as Feb. 21, Longhurst-Pritt said.

Mary Kenyon, who operates the Valley Meals and More home-delivery program in the Carbondale area, advised the commissioners that her program has taken in more shut-in and low-income clients since the county program was suspended.

Senior Reporter/Managing Editor John Stroud can be reached at 970-384-9160 or

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