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It's easy to lose sight of the people throughout our community who receive food stamps and other types of public assistance.

They line up in offices that people outside the system seldom visit. While those who are homeless may get wayward glances in parks or on sidewalks, many others stay hidden in apartments or motel rooms as they struggle with fluctuating assistance, job instabilities and the multiple pressures that come with poverty.

During the past couple weeks, I've gotten to know two families struggling with a system that's supposed to be helping them.

Compounding the usual problems and confusion that come with paperwork and red tape, El Paso County's Department of Human Services, which administers food stamps and other federal programs locally, is among the busiest in the state. And the local DHS is relatively short on money: The department offers starting wages well below those in Pueblo and other counties, making it hard to keep workers around and boosting workloads higher.

Some people may be able to shrug off the resulting delayed payments and fluctuating assistance. But for Laura Barry and others, the inconstancy makes it even harder to stand on their own feet.

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