Jan 21, 2016

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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Affordable childcare helps parents sharpen skills to support their families

by | Jan 21, 2016

Studies consistently show that a lack of affordable childcare limits parents’ educational goals and compromises their efforts to move out of poverty. Approximately 52 percent of single mothers in Colorado without high school diplomas live in poverty. Yet, the poverty rate falls to 18 percent for single mothers with a bachelor’s degree.

Colorado provides some resources to support parents in achieving their educational goals but they are spread between four different state departments and can vary from college to college. It can be nearly impossible for low-income parents to identify and coordinate the resources that could help them complete their education or training goals while caring for young children. Only one in 10 low-income parents is enrolled in education or training programs nationally. Half of those also work, and thus need childcare for work, school and their commute. Only a few colleges in Colorado offer onsite childcare. Those that do may still require full payment of childcare services, which presents a budgetary challenge for low-income households. The programs may only serve children of a certain age range or they may not provide childcare during the hours when classes are offered.

We have heard anecdotally that some colleges factor in childcare needs to determine financial aid eligibility. We have also heard that some parents increase their student debt to cover childcare bills – potentially prolonging their financial woes even after they obtain a certification, degree or gainful employment.

Meanwhile, workforce centers that train or retrain workers generally do not provide childcare services. Clients with childcare needs are often referred to Human Services. The federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) does allow funds to be used to provide support services, including childcare, but there are not sufficient funds to cover those needs and other necessary supportive services. Under the new WIOA bill, workforce centers must prioritize service to those with barriers to employment — such as the need for childcare. The State Workforce Development Council is currently in the process of finalizing Colorado’s WIOA implementation plan. To effectively serve those with childcare needs in the workforce centers, coordination between state departments must be developed. Unlike other parts of Human Services, the Child Care Assistance Program is not a federally required partner in WIOA.

Some adult education and literacy programs offer childcare arrangements, but most do not. Thus parents may defer participation until their children are school aged — deferring as well their ability to achieve economic stability by completing their high school equivalency diplomas.

To address the disconnect between the need and availability of childcare for low-income parents, CCLP developed House Bill 1050, sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood and Sen. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs.  The bill would create a time-limited task force charged with evaluating how state agencies could coordinate meeting the childcare needs of low-income parents who wish to advance their education. Members of the task force would include various state agencies, counties, representatives of organizations that serve parents who have sought or completed education and training, and parents themselves. The task force will be charged with streamlining processes administratively, or making recommendations for future legislative changes, if needed. HB 1050 has garnered support from the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) Coalition, the Bell Policy Center, the Colorado PTA, Skills2Compete Colorado, the Women’s Foundation of Colorado, the Center for Work Education and Employment and the Colorado Children’s Campaign. Further details about the bill are available in this fact sheet.

The bill has a small fiscal note which could present some challenges in a year when the budgetary shortfall is a serious concern. However, considering that lack of available childcare is a major barrier to economic security, the legislation is a sound investment in helping low-income families help themselves. HB 1050 is scheduled to be heard by the House Public Health Care and Human Services Committee on Jan. 26. The legislation was among a slate of bills approved for introduction by the Early Childhood and School Readiness Commission.

– By Chaer Robert

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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.