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State sends $2,500 bill to Colorado Springs family for pandemic food benefits

food benefits reimbursement

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- A Colorado Springs family is struggling to stay afloat after the state sent them a bill to repay thousands of dollars in food assistance they received during the pandemic.

And it appears that the issue could impact more Colorado families.

"We'll be in line at food banks with other people, where we've never been before," the Colorado Springs mother said.

The family, embarrassed by a lost job and their need for assistance, asked KRDO not to reveal their identity.

Her husband lost his job due to COVID-19 closures, and he immediately applied for unemployment and food assistance. The family started receiving the benefits in May. The federal government approved an extra $600 per week in unemployment benefits. Those temporary federal emergency benefits put the family over the income limit for food benefits but they had no idea.

"Now four months later, they're saying, 'Whoa, because we gave you that money that you needed, you have to pay the food benefits back that you got because it knocked you into a different income,'" she said.

The state sent them a bill for over $2,500 for the entire amount of food assistance they received from June to September.

"I can only imagine how many families are in our situation that are even worse, and they're going to get their notice when they reapply. Saying, 'Hey you got to pay this back,'" she said.

As many at 61,000 El Paso County residents qualified for the additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits, according to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment.

From May to August of this year nearly 40,000 households in El Paso County collected food benefits commonly known as SNAP.

It's unclear how much overlap there may be in the benefits programs.

We took the family's concerns to Karen Logan, the Director of Economic and Administrative Department of Human Services.

"Any time there's a claim on a family member or a household on their food benefits, it's unfortunate. Because we know that they wouldn't be applying for benefits with us if they didn't really need it," Logan said.

Logan said changes in income can impact SNAP eligibility. That's why DHS notifies those who get benefits to update any changes to their financial situation right away.

We asked if DHS should have given more warning to families that the temporary unemployment benefit could make them ineligible for food assistance.

"I can't answer to whether or not they should've come out and said, whether or not we should've known to say, X, Y, and Z. There's so much unknown that was going on during COVID that it was really difficult to manage through what was going to happen when," Logan said.

DHS couldn't quantify how many people could be impacted by the temporary unemployment benefits issue in El Paso County, but a spokesperson said they want anyone who finds themself in the situation to reach out.

DHS officials said people can set up payment plans or allow DHS to take a percentage of the money owed out of the current SNAP benefits a household is receiving.

After KRDO got involved, DHS contacted the family we spoke with and has already removed over $600 from that $2500 backpay bill they received.

If you have a story or lead you'd like to us to investigate, email Chelsea.Brentzel@krdo.com.

Colorado Springs / Investigations / Local News

Chelsea Brentzel

Chelsea is an investigative reporter for KRDO NewsChannel 13. Learn more about Chelsea here.

Comments

14 Comments

  1. Wish you told the whole story!
    .
    So HE lost his job, but the financial help to him couldn’t have been enough to cause this. So… how much was SHE making at her job? It would have been helpful to report that, as I’m sure it made the difference.

    1. No, this is the way this works. People with varying incomes can cross back and forth over the line from eligible to ineligible, also. It is a glitch in the system that has been there forever and very hard to manage. $600 a week is $2400 a month. For a family of five, you can qualify for food stamps with a gross monthly income of $5000, so you can see that the $2400 difference can matter. It is probably certainly the case they fell out of being qualified and they were legally supposed to tell social services about the changes, but many, many people would be confused by this situation and not realize the changes made them ineligible since it is unemployment insurance, not a job income change. Many people would also assume social services would know about the change internally and they wouldn’t have to report it. It’s a big mess, and I hope they figure it out and give a break to the people who got caught in the confusion.

  2. This is not a state issue. There are guidelines and if you falsify your income and receive benefits, then yes you have to repay them.
    To me it sounds like they lost a job and then applied for every benefit before getting the unemployment. Then get the benefits and you are over the limits.
    That extra $600 in your benefit was for things like…….Food.
    It may seem harsh…. but this is not a lone story. Many people have done this. Many have tried to take advantage of the programs for low income people and take a vacation while COVID is around. I personally know 5 people who are hurting now because they took the unemployment vacation by choice(sighted covid concern to not go to work)and now they can’t find a job and the unemployment benefits dried up. Many were told that this program would continue until Feb 2021. So get in on it now and you won’t have to work till next spring or be required to look for a job(normal unemployment requirement)
    Sounds like there is more to this story but they only focused on the sob parts. How much money did the couple make? Do they have a lot of kids? The income limits are listed on the web site. To apply you have to sign a disclose statement that what you are saying it true and they can come after you if it is not. You can get food from a food bank without being on a SNAP program.

    1. I agree. The $600 supplement was to pay for additional living expenses not covered by the standard state unemployment insurance. Along with the regular unemployment benefits, it should have been sufficient for most people to tide them over, at least until it stopped. It really amounts to “double-dipping” in the unemployment benefits pool.

    2. Most people who are on food stamps also work. They have a low income for family size so get food benefits in addition to bringing in an income. If a job was lost then the income was replaced with unemployment benefits, which then exceeded the amount of original income and put them over the line for eligibility.

      This sort of thing happens all the time with food stamps, there is a line you can’t cross. Let’s say someone is making $4700 a month and qualifies to get $600 in benefits. He is offered a job where he can earn $5000 a month, but then he loses his benefits. So by taking a better job his real family income reduces by $300. Many then don’t take the job, and then lose the opportunity to move up, etc. It’s an unintended side effect of benefits, and we have had them for a long time. But the COVID extra $2400 a month really confused things.

      1. Your numbers are way off. If you get a $4700 an month pay that is $56K a year. You would have to have 6 kids to come down to the poverty level. I don’t think they have 6 kids.

    1. Now there is a reason for the approximate $84,000,000.00 the city will have to give back since they just let it sit in the City of Colorado Springs’ bank accounts and accruing interest. Before they are required to give the money back, how about we use it for COVID related issues, like this.

  3. Don’t have a job. No unemployment. No extra unemployment. No SNAP. No Sec. 8 housing. How does one survive? It’s called saving for a rainy day, personal responsibility, and financial independence. All old boomer cultural theories rejected by today’s “spend it if you got it” families.

    1. These ideologies are not rejected by today’s families.

      “CareerBuilder found that 78% of U.S. workers are living paycheck to paycheck.” according to Forbes Jan 11, 2019.

      That means only 22% of U.S. Workers are not living paycheck to paycheck. That’s only a little over 2:10, that’s less than one quarter.

      One has to have something after the bills are paid to save something. And with wages being stagnant since the 1980’s and an average inflation increase of 2-3% per year over the last 40 years makes it difficult to accomplish this. Perhaps it’s just me. I am not on any government assistance, but every dollar my household provides is accounted for and I find it difficult at times. Perhaps your socioeconomic status places you in a higher position where it is difficult to see how hard it is at the bottom, or even in the lower middle income bracket. Perhaps the problem isn’t the 78% majority, perhaps the problem is the system itself.

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