Sep 25, 2018

Recent articles

20th Anniversary Milestones: Grassroots and Policy Come Together for Historical Minimum Wage Campaign

by | Sep 25, 2018

In celebrating the 20th anniversary of Colorado Center on Law & Policy, we are publishing a series of vignettes about the organization’s most significant accomplishments.

It’s no secret that Colorado has been one of the fastest-growing states over the past decade. However, with rapid growth comes a rapid rise in both housing costs and the cost of living. Unfortunately, wages have not kept up with these trends, pushing many families to the financial brink. The 2015-2016 State of Working Colorado report showed that nearly 1 in 3 Coloradans lived either at or near the poverty level, and 46 percent of Coloradans living in poverty lived in deep poverty (that is, an income that is half or lower than the poverty line).

In 2016, the minimum wage in Colorado was $8.31. However, the 2015 Self-Sufficiency Standard indicated that in 57 out of Colorado’s 64 counties, a single adult working an hourly job full-time could not live on this wage without using government-funded public assistance programs like SNAP and Medicaid. For an adult with one preschool-aged child, this wage was under the self-sufficiency standard in every single Colorado county. By contrast, the federal minimum wage is stalled at a woefully inadequate $7.25 an hour.

In early 2015, CCLP and partner organizations viewed this disparity with growing alarm. With a big election year around the corner and state legislators unable to make changes in the minimum wage, it was time to take action in support of Colorado workers. The last minimum wage increase prior to the 2016 initiative was in 2006, when the voters first authorized a state minimum wage that was higher than the federal minimum wage. That initiative resulted in a 33 percent one-time increase that preceded an influx of more than 73,000 new jobs statewide two years after the successful vote.

For the 2016 effort, CCLP teamed up with SEIU Local 105, Together Colorado, the Colorado People’s Alliance, and United for New Economy (UNE), among others, to brainstorm on what a minimum wage increase campaign would look like. CCLP’s Executive Director, Claire Levy, committed early in the campaign to dedicate time and resources to the fight.

“We all came together around the shared value of running a transformational campaign vs. transactional campaign,” said Michelle Webster, CCLP’s Manager of Research and Policy Analysis. The group of advocates wanted not only to help put more money in the pockets of workers in the short-term, but create a foundational narrative around economic security, and a long-lasting commitment to wage security. “We weren’t just coming together for one policy win, we wanted to build power to advance even more policies in the future to help low-income Coloradans,” Webster explained.

In 2015, the partners formed Coloradans for a Fair Minimum Wage, to build support for legislation that would to increase the minimum wage throughout the state and eliminate restrictions on local governments to raise the minimum wage so that workers can better support their families. Although none of the coalition’s bills passed, they set the stage and generated publicity around the issue.

With an election year around the corner, the team developed an amendment to the Colorado constitution to gradually increase the minimum wage statewide to $12 an hour by 2020.

However, the coalition knew that persuading voters to pass the ballot initiative wasn’t going to be easy. With support from the Colorado Restaurant Association, the opposition campaign had poured money into an extensive economic study that purported to show that raising the minimum wage would trigger a loss of 90,000 jobs in Colorado, and result in small businesses shuttering.
The opposition’s report got extensive news coverage as well, including references in The Denver Post, Westword, and the Denver Channel. But the campaign debunked the opposition’s assumptions by showing that the one-time raise in 2006 was followed by positive gains in the job market.

The campaign strategy emphasized getting out and knocking on doors, and a large rally at the capitol which generated coverage on traditional and social media. “It was really important to get out and counter the arguments in person about how the sky was going to fall based on the opposition’s report,” Webster said.

There was one just one final hurdle left to conquer: the ballot itself. “It was a crowded ballot,” said Webster, “and our amendment was down ballot. “Nevertheless, on election night, the campaign’s efforts were rewarded with the amendment’s passing with 54 percent of Coloradans voting in favor of the initiative.

Collaboration, commitment, and the willingness to stand up against skewed data all contributed to the amendment’s success. But even more important was the willingness to take a stand on behalf of workers who do not have bargaining power and say that they too deserve a decent life and fair pay for their hard work. Reasoning that fair pay for one’s work is the most basic measure of justice, CCLP was part of the fight from the beginning.

-By Duranya Freeman

Recent articles


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.


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.


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.


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.