Sep 20, 2018

Recent articles

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.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

20th Anniversary Milestones: Report Sharpens Focus on Self-Sufficiency

by | Sep 20, 2018

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

For 20 years and counting, Colorado Center on Law and Policy has been an organization that cares about economic security. In addition to advocacy work, litigation and occasional representation, CCLP has published heavily researched, data-driven reports to inform legislators, direct-service providers and the general public about financial realities in Colorado.

One of our most successful and influential reports is the Self Sufficiency Standard (SSS), an analysis commissioned by CCLP and prepared by Diana M. Pearce of the Center for Women’s Welfare at the University of Washington. The findings create a picture of what kind of income individuals and families in Colorado must make to be “self-sufficient,” or not have to rely on public-assistance programs like Medicaid or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). These data also show how many people fall below this standard, providing a more nuanced picture of financial well-being and who needs public assistance than federal poverty statistics.

First published in 2000 under the leadership of then CCLP Executive Director Maureen Farrell-Stevenson, CCLP has commissioned a SSS or related report roughly every three years, with the latest being published in 2015. An updated SSS, along with two supplemental reports, is scheduled for release in late 2018

The SSS specifically breaks down the costs of housing, child care, food, transportation, health care and other necessities in each of Colorado’s 64 counties. As one of the most comprehensive measures of economic security available, the SSS is often referenced by managers of workforce training programs, direct-service providers, policymakers, legislators and the media as a barometer for wage adequacy and policy effectiveness. In 2007, CCLP published a companion report that detailed demographic information. Titled “Overlooked and Undercounted,” the report analyzes specific demographic and job information, identifying what occupations and what ages, ethnicities, or genders tend to fall below the standard.

But the SSS isn’t just a book of statistics. It’s an invaluable tool that can be used in a number of ways. “The reports are packed with data, but that wasn’t enough to motivate foundations to support the project,” said Claire Levy, Executive Director of CCLP. “To raise the money we would need, I knew I had to demonstrate that these reports were important instruments for policymakers, service providers, philanthropists and the public.”

Levy knew there were plenty of concrete examples to demonstrate the value of the SSS when seeking funding for the 2018 reports. “The Human Relations Commission for the City of Boulder asked for my help in basing a living wage proposal on the 2015 Standard. The campaign to raise the Colorado minimum wage relied on the standard to demonstrate the challenge of living on the existing minimum wage in most Colorado counties. Directors of county departments of human services told me about the ways they use the standard to establish child care reimbursement rates and eligibility thresholds. I fielded calls from workforce centers in mountain counties requesting copies of the 2015 Standard for their board members,” Levy recounts. These examples helped raise the funds needed to publish the reports and fund outreach plans to distribute the reports statewide. Nan Sundeen, Director of Human Services for Pitkin County, reported to Levy that she used the SSS in many presentations to the Board of County Commissioners and Aspen City Council to illustrate the difficulties of living in Pitkin and the need for subsidies for child care, housing, transportation and medical care. “We also used the SSS to justify bringing a Federally Qualified Health center (FQHC) to Basalt and covering the operating costs above what the feds reimburse,” said Sundeen.

Following the release of the SSS, CCLP staff will engage in extensive outreach efforts across the state to promote and publicize the findings of the report to Colorado legislators and relevant parties, such as the Colorado Department of Human Services, community colleges and nonprofit organizations. In 2015 and the year following, CCLP staff members coordinated 26 total presentations across the state and delivered hundreds of mailings to relevant partners and interested parties

“The Self-Sufficiency Standard provides an objective tool for policy development,” said Chaer Robert, manager of CCLP’s Family Economic Security program. “County-specific figures engage policymakers by providing a specific benchmark to consider when discussing housing, workforce development, child care, etc. The Self-Sufficiency Standard provides a quick reality check for assumptions such as how much people can afford to pay for college or save for retirement.”

Apart from being an invaluable advocacy tool, the SSS can also guide the budgeting strategy of Coloradans of all ages who are working to manage their own finances. Location-specific and updated each release year by concrete data from our state, its uses are far-reaching, timely and relevant.

-By Duranya Freeman

Recent articles

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.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

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.