Mar 29, 2021

An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer has dedicated her career to helping people meet their basic needs and expanding economic opportunity. She serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

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2021 state legislation updates for March 29

by | Mar 29, 2021

Colorado’s 2021 legislative session is currently underway. Throughout the legislative session, CCLP compiles a list of all bills concerning economic opportunity and poverty reduction. This list includes bill sponsors, assigned committees, and a list of partner organizations that have confirmed their support for—or opposition to—each bill. This list updates throughout the session. The latest version may always be found in the sidebar of our Legislative Priorities page.

Read on for key takeaways, or download the March 29 Update here.

State budget

Last year the legislature cut $3.3 billion from the state budget, with careful, but dramatic cuts, from education, affordable housing, social programs, and savings. Colorado also budgeted for dramatic case and cost surges in Medicaid, which did not materialize. Tax revenues were greater than originally feared given the level of job loss. Income for many did not fall, as remote work began. Federal aid, the CARES Act, and the American Recovery Act have prevented the economy and state budget from collapsing.

Among CCLP’s budget priorities are restoring funding for SSI/SSDI Application Assistance Program, funding for rental assistance and eviction prevention, affordable housing, SNAP employment and training, digital inclusion, childcare, and education and training for those facing challenges in the job market such as adults without a high school diploma.

We are also examining the invisible budget. Like a budget, Colorado’s slate of tax credits is also a moral decision. For what reason, and for whom, does our state allow tax breaks? Given our flat rate income tax and reliance on sales tax, Coloradans with the lowest incomes pay a higher percentage of their income in state taxes than Coloradans who make more money. Legislation to rebalance tax cuts to assist struggling families will be coming later this session.

Income/expenses

SB018 helps people get a Colorado ID by paying for the ID or underlying documents. SB199 removes some requirement for proving lawful presence prior to receiving state or local public benefits. SB153 formalizes a program to ensure those leaving prison have a current ID. SB027 pays for diaper distribution for those who can’t afford them. HB1105 would increase funding for energy assistance through a $1-2 monthly fee on utility bills. It would also allow water utilities to institute an opt-in monthly fee to help finance water bill payment assistance. HB1220 lowers the interest rate on back owed child support from 12% to 10%, adds authority to intercept life insurance for payment of back owed support and requires reporting independent contractors to Dept of Labor New Hire List to expedite child support collection.

HB1214 would automate record sealing for certain arrests that did not result in charges. It allows those with convictions to file with the court for an order of collateral relief retrospectively. For those who receive a full pardon, their records would be sealed. It allows certain drug conviction records to automatically seal after a certain period of time.

Housing

Even prior to the epidemic, about half of Colorado renters paid more than 30% of their income for rent, with about ¼ of renters paying more than half their income for rent. With job and income losses during the pandemic, more struggle to keep up with rent in our high rent market. SB173 limits late fees, adds financial penalties for illegal lockouts in lieu of eviction, and gives renters more time to come up with rent prior to actual eviction. HB1121 limits rent increases to once annually and requires 10 days to execute a writ of restitution in evictions. HB1054 creates an exception for housing programs on requirement that applicants for public benefits verify lawful presence, unless otherwise required by federal law.

Health

HB1198 requires hospitals to screen uninsured patients for their eligibility for the hospital discount program and for public programs. It requires them to offer a payment plan prior to sending patients to collections. SB009 creates a program to provide contraceptives and counseling for a one- year period for Coloradans who are eligible for Medicaid, but for their immigration status. SB025 would seek federal approval to raise the income eligibility threshold for family planning services to 250% of FPL and enables women to get a full year supply at a time. SB175 establishes a board to review affordability of certain prescription drugs and establish upper payment limits if found to be unaffordable. HB1232 establishes a standardized health benefit plan that would be offered if current insurers do not reduce their premium costs by 20% by 2024.

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HEALTH:
HEALTH FIRST COLORADO (MEDICAID)

To maintain health and well-being, people of all ages need access to quality health care that improves outcomes and reduces costs for the community. Health First Colorado, the state's Medicaid program, is public health insurance for low-income Coloradans who qualify. The program is funded jointly by a federal-state partnership and is administered by the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy & Financing.

Benefits of the program include behavioral health, dental services, emergency care, family planning services, hospitalization, laboratory services, maternity care, newborn care, outpatient care, prescription drugs, preventive and wellness services, primary care and rehabilitative services.

In tandem with the Affordable Care Act, Colorado expanded Medicaid eligibility in 2013 - providing hundreds of thousands of adults with incomes less than 133% FPL with health insurance for the first time increasing the health and economic well-being of these Coloradans. Most of the money for newly eligible Medicaid clients has been covered by the federal government, which will gradually decrease its contribution to 90% by 2020.

Other populations eligible for Medicaid include children, who qualify with income up to 142% FPL, pregnant women with household income under 195% FPL, and adults with dependent children with household income under 68% FPL.

Some analyses indicate that Colorado's investment in Medicaid will pay off in the long run by reducing spending on programs for the uninsured.

FOOD SECURITY:
SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (SNAP)

Hunger, though often invisible, affects everyone. It impacts people's physical, mental and emotional health and can be a culprit of obesity, depression, acute and chronic illnesses and other preventable medical conditions. Hunger also hinders education and productivity, not only stunting a child's overall well-being and academic achievement, but consuming an adult's ability to be a focused, industrious member of society. Even those who have never worried about having enough food experience the ripple effects of hunger, which seeps into our communities and erodes our state's economy.

Community resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, exist to ensure that families and individuals can purchase groceries, with the average benefit being about $1.40 per meal, per person.

Funding for SNAP comes from the USDA, but the administrative costs are split between local, state, and federal governments. Yet, the lack of investment in a strong, effective SNAP program impedes Colorado's progress in becoming the healthiest state in the nation and providing a better, brighter future for all. Indeed, Colorado ranks 44th in the nation for access to SNAP and lost out on more than $261 million in grocery sales due to a large access gap in SNAP enrollment.

See the Food Assistance (SNAP) Benefit Calculator to get an estimate of your eligibility for food benefits.

FOOD SECURITY:
SPECIAL SUPPLEMENTAL NUTRITION PROGRAM FOR WOMEN, INFANTS AND CHILDREN (WIC)

Every child deserves the nutritional resources needed to get a healthy start on life both inside and outside the mother's womb. In particular, good nutrition and health care is critical for establishing a strong foundation that could affect a child's future physical and mental health, academic achievement and economic productivity. Likewise, the inability to access good nutrition and health care endangers the very integrity of that foundation.

The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) provides federal grants to states for supplemental foods, health care referrals, and nutrition information for low-income pregnant, breastfeeding and non-breastfeeding postpartum women and to infants and children up to age five who are found to be at nutritional risk.

Research has shown that WIC has played an important role in improving birth outcomes and containing health care costs, resulting in longer pregnancies, fewer infant deaths, a greater likelihood of receiving prenatal care, improved infant-feeding practices, and immunization rates

Financial Security:
Colorado Works

In building a foundation for self-sufficiency, some Colorado families need some extra tools to ensure they can weather challenging financial circumstances and obtain basic resources to help them and their communities reach their potential.

Colorado Works is Colorado's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and provides public assistance to families in need. The Colorado Works program is designed to assist participants in becoming self-sufficient by strengthening the economic and social stability of families. The program provides monthly cash assistance and support services to eligible Colorado families.

The program is primarily funded by a federal block grant to the state. Counties also contribute about 20% of the cost.

EARLY LEARNING:
COLORADO CHILD CARE ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (CCCAP)

Child care is a must for working families. Along with ensuring that parents can work or obtain job skills training to improve their families' economic security, studies show that quality child care improves children's academic performance, career development and health outcomes.

Yet despite these proven benefits, low-income families often struggle with the cost of child care. Colorado ranks among the top 10 most expensive states in the country for center-based child care. For families with an infant, full-time enrollment at a child care center cost an average of $15,140 a year-or about three-quarters of the total income of a family of three living at the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) provides child care assistance to parents who are working, searching for employment or participating in training, and parents who are enrolled in the Colorado Works Program and need child care services to support their efforts toward self-sufficiency. Most of the money for CCCAP comes from the federal Child Care and Development Fund. Each county can set their own income eligibility limit as long as it is at or above 165% of the federal poverty level and does not exceed 85% of area median income.

Unfortunately, while the need is growing, only an estimated one-quarter of all eligible children in the state are served by CCCAP. Low reimbursement rates have also resulted in fewer providers willing to accept CCCAP subsidies.