The recession lingers for Idaho’s poor

The recession officially ended four years ago, but the Idaho Foodbank and a state program to help the poor with heating bills remain as strained as ever.

The Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which paid heating bills for 43,745 Idaho households during the 2012-2013 winter, had its funding cut from $19.7 million in 2012-2013 to $16.6 million this winter. The program is supported by federal funds.

The Community Action Partnership administers the program in Idaho. Christina Zamora, executive director, said less than half of Idahoans under the poverty line received the benefit last year. The partnership had to stop accepting applications last March when the program was running out of money, she said.

The heating program is on track to maintain the number of households it serves this winter, Zamora said. But she said future cuts will leave more Idahoans unable to pay heating bills.

“We’re just going to have to serve less people,” Zamora said. “The federal funding really drives how many people we’re able to serve.”

The majority of the households that receive help from the program have children under 6 or elderly or disabled people, Zamora said.

The Idaho Foodbank is also overwhelmed with demand. The food bank, which distributes to food banks in 39 of Idaho’s 44 counties, has provided more than 900,000 meals per month so far in 2013, President and CEO Karen Vauk said. The food bank is on pace to distribute a record-high 13.5 million pounds this year but would need to collect and distribute more than 16 million pounds to keep up with demand, Vauk said.

“We’re not seeing any decrease in demand since the recession yet, and we’re not surprised by that,” Vauk said. “Some people who found jobs incurred additional debt (during the recession years). Some found employment but at a wage below what will meet their needs. It will take some time to get out of that position.”

Zach Kyle: 377-6464, Twitter: @IDS_zachkyle