Jun 18, 2024

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 ›

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

2024 Legislative session: addressing economic challenges at the individual and state level

by | Jun 18, 2024

How does life for Coloradans change as a result of the 2024 legislative session? Does the flurry of bills passed bolster the economic stability of struggling families, individuals, and communities? How did our legislators put their values into action, despite tight budget restrictions on the growth of the state’s general fund?

State revenues have grown at a healthy pace, which is good news. However, TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) limits the state government’s general fund – the primary fund used for financing state operations – growth to last year’s budget level, adjusted for inflation and population growth. Almost $2 billion in tax revenues collected were above the TABOR cap for fiscal year 2023-2024. Meanwhile, the massive amounts of extra federal aid that helped sustain families and helped businesses and government services survive the pandemic have dried up or are expiring. So how did legislators meet these financial challenges and fund new and large scale changes?

For the purpose of understanding the 2024 legislative session, I think of legislation as grouped into three buckets:

  • Funding for government services and programs
  • Creation of rights and protections
  • Tax Policies

Funding for government services and programs

Funding for continuing government services is spelled out in the “long” budget bill, with a separate bill specifically covering school finance. As is generally the case, the Joint Budget Committee, with six members representing both parties and both the House and the Senate, who worked diligently for months to craft our state budget, was adopted.

This budget generally reflects continuing activities and programs. Only after this budget is approved does the legislature know how much money is left to fund all new bills which require general funds. Bills may have been approved in their first committee as needed, even necessary, but such funding asks far exceeded available dollars left under the TABOR spending cap. Many bills were doomed unless alternative funding could be identified, or elements that cost money, like enforcement or data collection and evaluation, were stripped out of the bill.

Given that only about $20 million was left in the available general fund after the budget passed, relative few new government services and programs could succeed at more than a very modest scale. For example, HB24-1280, Welcome, Reception, & Integration Grant Program, created a new grant program for community-based organizations who have been struggling to help meet the needs of migrants arriving within the last year. Total funding for the entire state for such programs is $2.5 million from the general fund. HB24-1009, Bilingual Child Care Licensing Resources, charged the Department of Early Childhood with developing licensing, educational, and outreach materials resources for Spanish-speaking child care providers at a cost of about $280,000. HB24-1164, Free Menstrual Products to Students, originally sought to require all middle and high schools to provide free menstrual products in half of their bathrooms to minimize student class time missed. The bill was scaled back to include a phase-in expansion only to rural and charter schools with the fiscal note limited to $100,000 per year. Other bills deliberately sidestepped asking for general fund dollars in favor of alternative funding (e.g. HB24-1286, Equal Justice Fund Authority and SB24-053, Race Equity Study).

Rights and protections

Rights and protections bills reflect the balance of power between two interests such as tenants and landlords, workers and employers, or consumers and pharmaceutical companies. Many have no-to-minimal fiscal notes, so are not hampered by Colorado’s budget restrictions as much. However, these bills reflect deep power struggles and well-funded interests by those who can hire an army of lobbyists. Organized people power, coupled with a skilled legislative champion can sometimes present a compelling case to overcome these challenges.

This year’s breakthrough legislation was HB24-1098, Cause Required for Eviction of Residential Tenant, or For Cause Eviction, by Representative Javier Mabrey, backed by 9to5 Colorado, Colorado Homes for All coalition and many others. It now requires landlords to have cause – like nonpayment of rent or lease violations – in order to proceed with an eviction. HB24-1008, Wage Claims Construction Industry Contractors, by Representative Monica Duran, was supported by unions like Regional Council of Carpenters, AFL-CIO, and community groups like Towards Justice to address wage theft by construction contractors. It did pass the legislature, but was vetoed by the Governor. SB24-060, Prescription Drug Affordability Board (PDAB) Exempt Orphan Drugs, was a bill backed by a variety of pharmaceutical companies to remove the PDAB’s authority to research and cap prices for certain high-priced drugs used to treat rare diseases. Community opposition to the bill included AARP, Young Invincibles, CCLP, Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, and Centennial State Prosperity. Advocates ensured the bill died on the Senate floor.

Tax policy

State revenues have been healthy, due to a rising economy, consumer spending, and income growth. State spending is capped by TABOR, resulting in over $3 billion in revenue this past year alone, and is projected at almost $2 billion per year in next couple years. This combined with the disappearing federal pandemic aid, and low growth in available general fund dollars resulted in a dramatic shift in attention to tax policy. Tax rates, exclusions, credits, and deductions became the tools to move bills into law. Rather than funding government services and programs directly, legislators fought to fund priorities indirectly to tax policy changes. Some 2024 bills which make use of the income tax credit approach were:

  • HB24-1340, Incentives for Post-Secondary Education – Two years of tuition and fees for recent graduates of a Colorado high school to attend Colorado colleges
  • HB24-1439, Financial Incentives Expand Apprenticeship Programs – Credits for employers hiring apprentices
  • HB24-1365, Opportunity Now Grants & Tax Credit – Credits for employers to make infrastructural and equipment improvements to training programs for their workers
  • HB24-1052, Senior Housing Tax Credit – For tax year 2024 only, for those 65 years and older who rent or can’t claim the Senior Homestead Exemption
  • HB24-1316, Middle-Income Housing Tax Credit – Income tax credits for developers of housing for those earning between 80%-120% of the Area Median Income (AMI), up to 140% of AMI for rural resort areas

The biggest fights, however, were between those who wanted regressive cuts in the income tax rate or to preserve the largest possible individual TABOR refunds for distribution through the regressively structured sales tax refund versus those who wanted to provide more relief to low-income families and children in poverty. TABOR specifies in our constitution that the state “may use any reasonable method for refunds under this section, including temporary tax cuts or rate reductions.” By the end of session, the legislature approved a wide variety of tax measures which reduced taxes or increased rebates to Coloradans at all income levels. Temporary reductions in the income tax rate and rebates through the six-tiered sales tax rebates – SB24-228, TABOR Refund Mechanisms – benefit the most for those with the highest income. The tax credit for higher education benefits middle-class families with income below $90,000 a year but above the Pell Grant cutoff of $52,500 per year.

But three bills did particularly benefit those with lower incomes:

  • HB24-1311, Family Affordability Tax Credit – This new 10-year state income tax credit is contingent on economic growth, hence tax revenues. Parents with children under 17 years of age, with incomes under $75,000 for individual filers or $85,000 for joint filers, benefit, with the amount prorated to give the highest relief to those with the lowest income and the youngest children, potentially up to $3,200 per child.
  • HB24-1134, Adjustments to Tax Expenditures to Reduce Burden – The ongoing base percentage of match to the federal credit was raised permanently, with an extra boost in the percentage match for years of high economic growth and tax revenues.
  • HB24-1312, State Income Tax Credit for Careworkers – This new $1,200 a year income tax credit for tax years 2025-2028 will supplement the low wages of early childhood educators, homecare, and nursing home workers. Friend and family caregivers may qualify if they register in the Department of Early Childhood’s Colorado Shines Professional Development Information System (PDIS).

Together these three tax measures put almost $950 million into the pockets of some of the lowest income Coloradans. They can be accessed simply by filing state income taxes.

Conclusion

Overall, the 2024 legislative session was packed with activity and accomplishment. Struggling Coloradans, particularly those with children, will be able to access significant economic support when they file their 2024 taxes next year as they tap the three tax credits above. Tenants may notice shifts in interactions with their landlords, with the new requirements for Just Cause for Evictions, lessening home occupancy limits by local governments to what is required for health and safety, strengthened Warranty of Habitability laws on rental safety and repairs, and waived fees for responding to eviction notices. More availability of legal help for civil actions may help protect thousands in the years to come.

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

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.