Commissioners eye economic indicators

By Hank Lohmeyer


On Monday, the Delta County Commissioners reviewed staff reports that prompted a discussion of statistical indicators for the local economy.

They dug into numbers being generated by the health and human services department including the relentless increase in the number of Medicaid-eligible cases here. Medicaid enrollments began increasing sharply as the result of the Affordable Care Act. Since October 2013, the county's caseload has steadily climbed from 2,632 to 5,331 in March.

That 49 percent increase in two and a half years shows no sign of abating.

The Medicare program is funded 100 percent by the federal government, but the program is administered locally by staff on the county payroll who approve payments according to federal guidelines. Payments to medical providers have been running at about $2.2 million per month.

The county commissioners are interested in Medicaid caseloads because qualification is based on income at or near poverty levels. While Obamacare mandates are pushing some people into the program, the growing number of cases in Delta could indicate an increasing level of poverty here, and if so that would be a concern for policy makers.

From May-August 2015, there was a four-month-long decline in the number of Medicaid cases. Health department staff suggests that could have been due to people leaving the area to look for work after school ended. The number of cases began rising again last September when school started and has continued its rise.

A big jump in payouts under another federal program

also caught the BoCC's attention. The food stamp program in February this year reached a record level. That month county staff approved $520,937 in payouts -- a better than 5 percent increase over the average monthly payout during 2015.

The average monthly food stamp payout for the county through all of last year was just over $494,266.

County staff speculated that the high February payout in food stamps could be an indicator of lost mining jobs in the North Fork. Food stamp eligibility is determined by income.

The number of food stamp households in the county has stayed steady over the past year at around 1,900, according to department figures; that is over 15 percent of the county's 12,500 households (U.S. Census estimate).