Feb 18, 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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Conference previews the future of skills training and employment

by | Feb 18, 2016

How do we build career pathways that help workers get the training and experience to advance into good paying jobs? Many in-demand jobs do not require a two- or four-year degree, but most require some kind of post-secondary training. In Colorado, this represents half of all the jobs in the state.

Recently, the National Skills Coalition held their annual Skills Summit in Washington, D.C. As coordinator of Skills2Compete Colorado, I attended, along with Laurie Harvey of CWEE, Paula Schriefer of the Spring Institute and Frank Waterous of The Bell Policy Center. (All of us are pictured with Rep. Mike Coffman in the photo accompanying this blog posting).

First on the agenda, we reviewed seven national priorities related to workforce development:

  1. Full funding for Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA). While Congress passed WIOA overwhelmingly in 2014, the funding level has declined by $400 million since 2010.
  2. Double the current funding for adult education and English as a second language curriculum. Funding for adult education has dropped 17 percent since 2010. While federally funded programs currently reach 1.5 million people, 36 million adults throughout the country lack the literacy and numeracy skills to enter most training programs. In Colorado, over 9 percent of working-age adults have not earned a high school diploma.
  3. Endorse the Student Right to Know Before You Go Act. What you study is far more important than where you study. The top three reasons students go to college is to improve employment opportunities, make more money and get a good job. Students need data on employment and earnings outcomes before investing their time and money. The difference in lifetime wages between high school and college graduates is $1 million. But the difference in lifetime wages between the lowest- and highest-paid college majors is $3.4 million. The Student’s Right to Know Before You Go Act would provide better information on post-college workforce results.
  4. Endorse the JOBS Act, which would modernize Pell Grants, the money the U.S. federal government provides to students to pay for college. Currently, 25 percent of undergraduate credentials are short-term, no-degree programs, but only 4 percent of Pell dollars go to these programs. The average post-secondary certificate holder has 20 percent higher lifetime earnings than a person with only a high school diploma. This represents a good investment for Pell funding.
  5. Endorse the Community College to Career Fund Act to provide dedicated support through the Perkins Act for partnerships between industry and community colleges. The Perkins Act funds career and technical education both at the high-school level as well as the post-secondary level.
  6. Redirect the Work Opportunity Tax Credit (WOTC) to support apprenticeships and work-based learning. The current WOTC provides a credit for employers to cover a portion of wages paid to certain employees with barriers to employment. Redirecting the credit to cover training would advance the skills of the employee, benefitting both employers and employees.
  7. Pass Legislation to lift current restrictions on TANF skills training. Nationally, less than 8 percent of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) recipients have an education beyond high school. Yet TANF law caps participation in education at 30 percent of the caseload and severely limits what kind and how much education counts toward the “work participation rate.”

After being thoroughly briefed on skills training and employment issues, the Colorado delegation met with staff from Sen. Michael Bennet’s and Rep. Jared Polis’s offices, since these legislators serve on the committees that are likely to hear about these policy matters.

Over the next year or so, Congress will likely work on a new Higher Education Act. This larger bill could include Pell grant modernization and data on employment outcomes of educational programs. The Student Right to Know Before You Go and the JOBS Act could build momentum for inclusion of these issues.

With a renewed understanding of the policy changes ahead in employment and skills training, the Colorado delegation headed back home with tools and knowledge that we hope will benefit low-income Coloradans for months and years to come.

– 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.