Nov 25, 2020

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CCLP’s thoughts on Colorado’s special legislative session regarding COVID-19

Too many Coloradans are hurting directly and profoundly because of the pandemic. With federal relief expiring, evictions loom around the corner and food bank lines grow longer. Meanwhile, workers in many sectors might not see their jobs return and will require retraining. Sadly, immigrants without work authorizations have been excluded from most of the government aid distributed to date.

As these problems mount — and with additional federal relief nowhere in sight — we are encouraged to see Colorado Gov. Jared Polis and state legislators take action to prevent further harm by calling for a special session of the Colorado Legislature, beginning on Nov. 30.

Among the issues to be considered in this short (and hopefully, very productive) session: Housing and rental assistance; support for child care providers; food insecurity issues, utilities assistance, the public health response and expanding broadband access for students and educators in areas that lack digital connectivity.

With the special session starting after the Thanksgiving Day weekend, the policy experts at Colorado Center on Law and Policy weighed in on what should be the session’s priorities (with a clear understanding of Colorado’s constitutional limitations and budgetary constraints):

Housing and rental assistance – Despite a temporary moratorium to halt some evictions until the public health crisis subsides, the housing crisis remains a clear and present danger in Colorado. Amid this fraught environment, legislators will consider a proposal to allocate $50 million for emergency financial assistance to landlords and tenants during the special session.

We support this effort, and we also urge legislators to set aside some funds to expand the availability of legal aid for tenants facing eviction, as well as ensuring that such funds are available to support Colorado immigrants without documentation.

Support for child care providers — Even before the pandemic hit, child care providers were struggling. Profit margins were negligible and early-childhood educators generally earned only half of what kindergarten schoolteachers make. Turnover in this sector was extraordinarily high, due to low pay, long hours and high responsibility.

Meanwhile, many Colorado workers still struggle to balance remote work with their children’s remote-learning needs. But many – such as essential workers — simply cannot do their jobs without child care. Unfortunately, many child care providers closed their doors during the pandemic.

The money from the soon-to-expire CARES Act helped to keep the lights on in some child care centers, as many parents pulled children out of child care when they lost their jobs. Throughout the pandemic, child care providers have wrestled with lowered capacity, higher costs for cleaning supplies and protective gear, and varying demand and their own health concerns and risk factors. More than one-fourth of child care providers expect to close their doors without additional support.

During the special session, we expect to see legislation allocating $35 million of sustainability grants for child care providers that are currently open. This money could address issues associated with increased cleaning costs, supplies, operating costs for any required quarantining period, etc.

Other legislation being considered could help mitigate the attrition of child care facilities – particularly in areas with few providers – by making $10 million in grants available. These one-time grants would be designed to keep the child care sector viable for the next few months until vaccines allow us transition out of the public health emergency.

CCLP supports efforts to ensure families and Colorado’s economic recovery is not delayed due to disintegration of our state’s fragile child care infrastructure.

Food insecurity – We support our coalition partners from the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger in recommending flexible policies that can serve as many diverse communities as possible; including food-pantry assistance grants, home deliveries and relief for individuals with disparate immigration status. (For example, local communities could use funding for CSA box subscriptions or leveraging local restaurants to help with food preparation and delivery).

All told, the Blueprint coalition recommended $5 million for additional state food relief efforts amid widespread concern that resources at food banks and food pantries are strained and will be even more strained during what’s expected to be a long winter.

Utilities assistance – CCLP also supports legislation to distribute an additional $5 million to help Coloradans with low incomes to pay their energy bills. These funds would be distributed by our partners at Energy Outreach Colorado.

With demand for energy assistance already increasing by more than 25 percent compared to last year, we anticipate that these funds would be spent very quickly and provide much-needed emergency assistance for many Colorado households.

Public health — Some of the dollars currently earmarked for public health should go to improving the uptake of Medicaid, subsidized health coverage and SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) to tens of thousands of Coloradans who have suffered job loss due to the pandemic and remain without health coverage and access to adequate food.

Any money spent by the state for Health First Colorado (the state’s Medicaid program) or SNAP is more than doubled by federal dollars, so there is a multiplier effect when the state facilitates enrollment in federal programs. Increasing enrollment through Connect for Health Colorado also brings in millions of dollars every year through federal premium assistance.

In addition to leveraging these federal programs, the funds should also go toward improving state websites and information on coverage options and to prioritizing translation into Spanish and other languages – an aspect that has been neglected by the state and harms a population that already experiences more COVID-19-related illness and death.

Resources should also be directed toward expanding efforts at medical-assistance sites and community-based organizations to help Coloradans access health coverage. This is especially vital while county offices are closed or only minimally open.

Increasing broadband access – The recent surge in COVID-19 caseloads has forced many school districts – particularly those in the Front Range – to switch to remote learning. Unfortunately, students without broadband and wi-fi access face a severe academic disadvantage. We support legislative efforts to bridge the digital divide that could prevent future workers from succeeding.

While vaccines offer hope for the future, the short-term effect and long-term aftershocks from the pandemic threaten the health and well-being of our communities. Hopefully, the special session will provide relief for Coloradans who need it most.

Thanks to Gov. Polis and state legislators for demonstrating leadership during this exceptionally difficult time.

– By CCLP Staff

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.