Mar 1, 2016

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Breakfast serves food for thought on women’s issues

by | Mar 1, 2016

On Feb. 23, nearly 200 women – and a handful of intrepid men – gathered at the Denver Scottish Rite Consistory for a morning of camaraderie and stimulating discussion about upcoming legislation affecting women, girls and families.

Co-sponsored by CCLP, the 27th Annual Women’s Legislative Breakfast began with a Q & A with a panel of seven Colorado state legislators who have historically demonstrated sensitivity to the structural issues that impact women: Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, Rep. Kit Roupe, R-Colorado Springs, Rep. Daneya Esgar, D-Pueblo, Rep. Dominick Moreno, D-Commerce City and Rep. Jovan Melton, D-Denver. The bipartisan panel discussed the state’s budget challenges, healthcare and economic justice through a gender lens.

While the discussion was lively and constructive, it also highlighted the areas where consensus around the advancement of women in our state breaks down. When the M.C., Peg Perl, asked the legislators if they would support equal pay – in concept, not specific legislation – most panelists responded with a simple and resounding, “Yes!” Others, however, delivered qualified and circuitous answers.

This contrast perfectly teed up Rosemary Lytle’s keynote speech. Rosemary is the Executive Director of Positive Impact Colorado and President of the NAACP Colorado, Montana, and Wyoming State Area Conference. She delivered a speech that was moving, honest and decisively direct.

Lytle began with an excerpt from civil rights’ activist Sojourner Truth’s speech, “Ain’t I a Woman?” — setting the tone for a difficult discussion that does not take center stage in the public discourse often enough.

She asserted that in this “Year of the Woman,” it is imperative that women of every color and background – and the men who are strong enough to stand as allies – link arms and take action as a unified group. If we care about the rights of women, we must believe just as strongly that black lives matter and that the lives of trans women of color matter.

When women — particularly women of color — cry out that they are being treated unjustly, that they are being denied the respect of which they are worthy, that they are being robbed of the wages they deserve, that their families are being torn apart by the many injustices of the criminal justice system, it is not appropriate to respond with, “But…”

Lytle says we have the power to confront the challenges that women of color face. Looking out at the majority-white faces in the crowd, it was apparent that this is something needed to be said and heard.

This brings up the important issue of “intersectionality” – an idea that is sometimes lost in the advocacy world. Intersectionality is the analysis of discrimination faced by anyone who identifies with the multiple social, biological and cultural groups considered out of the mainstream of a patriarchal, white society. It is important to make space to discuss how different types of discrimination intersect, creating unique experiences of marginalization.

This lens must be applied to social justice work for a movement to be truly anti-oppressive. The racism that women of color confront is not divorced from the discrimination they face based on gender identity, nor should it be.

Lytle put it well: “When a white woman gets a cold, black women and Latinas get pneumonia.”

I got the sense that participants left the breakfast with a renewed commitment to raising the issues women — specifically women of color — face. As the co-chair of the Women’s Legislative Breakfast, I was proud to be part of this meaningful event.

– Aubrey Hasvold

Recent articles

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.