Jul 12, 2016

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

Challenges and opportunities for forging pathways from homelessness

Jobseekers who experience homelessness find themselves in a frustrating Catch 22: They can’t afford a home because they don’t have a job and they can’t land a job because they don’t have a home.

In metro Denver, over 30 percent of those experiencing homelessness have worked in the past month. But in today’s economy, the reliability and consistency of work hours may vary — particularly for those with the lowest-wage jobs. Sadly, these circumstances afflict a growing number of Colorado families as affordable housing becomes scarce throughout the state and many of the available job opportunities tend to offer low-income wages.

To address these troubling trends, the Butler Family Fund provided a significant grant to Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) in late 2015 to develop a work plan that will detail innovative ways to improve access to living-wage, middle-skill and career-pathway employment for jobseekers who have experienced homelessness. This grant is in direct response to the enactment of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) which went into effect on July 1, 2016.

As the Project Coordinator contracted by CCLP for this grant, I began working in mid-February by gathering information about the challenges people experiencing homelessness face in different counties and regions throughout the state. I also heard feedback and recommendations for what is needed to help Coloradans out of homelessness and how WIOA fits in the equation. CCLP was already immersed in the WIOA implementation process. For more than three years, CCLP coordinated the Skills2Compete Colorado Coalition, which advocated for WIOA’s passage on a national level in partnership with the National Skills Coalition.

With July 1 right behind us, it is a good time to share how these efforts are progressing and what we have learned so far.  Since improving access to training opportunities and employment outcomes for people experiencing homelessness is the goal of this project, I spent the first several months of the project meeting with over 25 stakeholder groups. These stakeholders have included workforce directors, managers and staff; public agency representatives; representatives from homeless service organizations; housing and employment organizations; job-seekers; and employers. CCLP submitted comments on the state and local plans, and have encouraged others to submit comments as well. Thus, some of the recurring themes that are echoed by homeless employment service providers have been recorded at the state level.

Over the last five months, I’ve noted some common themes that have characterized urban and rural regions alike. Here are a few:

* Transportation to different workforce centers or service sites is a significant challenge across Colorado and the challenge continues once someone is employed. The magnitude of the impact of limited transportation — as well as the related expense — has been an epiphany to me. The transportation barrier becomes almost impossible to overcome in rural areas, and the cost of transportation in Denver and other cities is prohibitive for those experiencing homelessness.

* Another pervasive issue is the resistance of job-seekers to go to a workforce center unless someone goes with them. Many people who experience homelessness fear they won’t be treated well at these centers. Often, this is because they believe the services they received in the past did not respond to their needs. Others generally distrust bureaucracies and fear that any time spent with public agencies will be will be unpleasant, unproductive or confusing.

*Jobseekers who experienced homelessness are seeking a “starter job” to begin earning an income, but also need ongoing training and other assistance to pursue a career pathway that leads to economic stability.  This process requires building a relationship between the case manager at the workforce center and the job seeker to establish trust.

*Community service providers universally feel that participants who experienced homelessness often had significant trauma in their lives, and that staff assisting them in finding employment should have a thorough understanding of these issues. Trauma can influence people in many diverse and unique ways, and the experience of homelessness can make this more pronounced or destructive. Behaviors of this population are often shaped by different traumatic experiences. Having sensitivity to this dynamic and related behaviors is a crucial tool for providing responsive and effective employment services to these participants, and is seen as a key factor to supporting these job-seekers as they seek positive and appropriate career-pathway matches.

As outreach and research on this project continues, I am encouraged by the desire of most parties to collaborate effectively.

WIOA is not a “magic potion” that will cure all the ills of the workforce system, nor does it provide the funds needed to fill all of the gaps in services necessary to meet the needs of people experiencing homelessness. Instead, WIOA has served as the stimulus for new and dynamic conversations between different stakeholders that had not happened for a long time — and the result is an increased understanding about the overall issues of the workforce system related to serving individuals experiencing homelessness and other work barriers.

This awareness and desire to be active partners brings opportunities and hope for a more collaborative and integrated workforce system that will improve services to these underserved Coloradans.

– By Laura Ware

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

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.