The El Paso County Department of Human Services (DHS) held a ribbon cutting ceremony for its new economic assistance site at the Peak Vista Community Health Center on Jetwing Drive the morning of Sept. 23. The new location will provide Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card services, and is the third location in El Paso County.
“I think we are the only county [in Colorado] that has three locations,” said Karen Logan, the economic and administrative services director for DHS. “I know Arapahoe County has two. I think Denver County has two. It’s not common for people to have this many. The difference with us — the Denver Metro area, their population is condensed in a small area — El Paso County is stretched so far and wide.”
District 4 El Paso County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez Jr. said in a news release provided by DHS, “This location is closer than the Citizens Service Center for those living in the southern part of El Paso County.”
The Citizen’s Service Center is located on Garden of the Gods Road in northwestern Colorado Springs, and is more than an hour-long trip by bus. Six years ago DHS opened its second EBT site in Fountain through its partnership with Peak Vista Community Health Centers. The new location at 1815 Jetwing Drive will spare Southeast residents a lengthy trip to the other EBT locations.
“We are excited to partner with DHS, as it expands services to patients visiting our Jet Wing location. Patient health and wellbeing is truly enhanced by providing access to economic assistance,” said Pam McManus, Peak Vista CEO, in a news release provided by DHS. “Having DHS services here rounds out our offerings of medical, dental and behavioral health services as we focus on whole-person care.”
Logan notes that the partnership with Peak Vista is an organic one. “They’re a huge provider for people receiving Medicaid, so our collaboration was kind of natural in that sense that we have a lot of the same clients.”
The COVID-19 crisis has led to an increase in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) clients, who use EBT cards to purchase groceries, in El Paso County. In August 2019, DHS reported 63,959 SNAP clients, butlast August there were 79,244. The Colorado Department of Human Services has also offered expanded EBT benefits, called P-EBT or Pandemic EBT benefits, for parents affected by school closures. “Those are for parents of school-age children who found themselves in the situation where kids used to be able to get free and reduced lunches and breakfast at school, but now they have to feed them at home, so their food budget went up,” said Logan.
The impact of COVID-19 is also seen in the number of clients opting to receive their EBT cards via mail. In August 2019, 82 EBT cards were mailed to clients, but last August there 1,630 mailed. “The majority of people are getting their cards through the mail,” said Logan. “If people don’t trust the mail, if they don’t have a stable address, they are allowed to come in and get cards issued to them. If they lose their EBT card, if it becomes damaged or stolen, they can come in and get a new one.”
The new economic assistance site is something the county's DHS has been working towards for some time. “This is the highest saturated area of people receiving benefits from our department — in the 80910 and 80916 area — in all of El Paso County,” said Logan. “There’s been some transportation issues and things that become a little bit of a challenge for people in different areas. We have been located at the Sand Creek library over on Academy, but we didn’t have EBT issuance there. We just now got approved from the state. We had to submit a plan, with security measures and things like that, and then the state approves whether or not they’ll allow us to issue cards out at this location.
“People are getting more help with their food dollars,” added Logan. “The other good thing is it’s funneling back into the community because it’s being spent at the grocery stores and businesses.”