Dec 8, 2022

Bethany Pray currently serves as CCLP's Deputy Director. Her areas of expertise include regulatory analysis and advocacy for Medicaid and commercial coverage, access to behavioral health benefits, Medicaid eligibility and much more.Staff page ›

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December Letter from Bethany Pray, Interim Executive Director

by | Dec 8, 2022

We are a nation and a state of great divides. A land of extraordinary beauty, great wealth, a healthy state economy, and diverse, dynamic communities. At the same time, a quarter of Coloradans lack the resources to meet their basic needs. Racial, ethnic, gender, and class divides remain stark, and perpetuate violence – physical and otherwise – toward individuals and communities. Bridging those divides, and working toward healing, are not efforts anyone can tackle alone.

With CCLP’s recent release of the 2022 Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado, co-authored with the University of Washington and supported by Mile High United Way, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to be self-sufficient. None of us is really self-sufficient, nor should we expect to be. The wealthy depend as much as anyone upon the infrastructure of civil society—roads, regulations, rights. They also depend uniquely upon tax policy written in their favor, and policies on borrowing and investment and inheritance that are government-created.

But self-sufficiency is about more than money. I depend on my family and friends for strength; on my CCLP colleagues to work alongside me in furthering our shared mission; on the individuals, community organizations, foundations and board members to support the work we do; on our advocacy colleagues to do what they do best; on government and legislative partners and thoughtful judges; and on the thousands of Coloradans who — despite having their own jobs and families and struggles to pay rent — meet with their neighbors week after week to identify what’s not working, and call for change.

Last week, CCLP celebrated our annual Communities Against Poverty event, honoring Coloradans who have fought to close those divides, and hearing from two amazing speakers, Dr. Frederick Wherry and Dr. Lois Lupica, who shared their insights on debt, its disproportionate impact on low-income households and on communities of color in particular, and the innovative new work they are doing to understand how those systems might change.

Our honorees included our Legislator of the Year, Representative Monica Duran, prime sponsor of the 2022 bill that reformed Colorado’s TANF program; Governmental Partner of the Year, Katherine Keegan, whose leadership at the Office of the Future of Work is helping to reduce the digital divide that keeps Coloradans from accessing benefits they are eligible for; Community Advocate of the Year Alma Vidauri, whose bravery in tackling an unfair legal system led to passage of a bill that reforms how benefits fraud is prosecuted; and Community Partner of the Year, Expunge Colorado, a small, scrappy organization that has led the way in improving record sealing processes in Colorado.

We at CCLP are fortunate to have access to resources — access to power, in other words. But as fans of Marvel movies know: with great power comes great responsibility. It is our obligation to try to channel our power to alter the structures that divide, and to help create new structures that enfranchise community voice in the future trajectory of our state. We’re privileged to have been able to work with our honorees and further their goals, and we look forward to working with our/the community to design Colorado solutions to the debt burden so many of us carry.  The tools we have at our disposal – research, legislative, and legal expertise – are made for this, and to be lent, shared, and given. Sharing power is something we practice and try to get better at every day. That’s what I love about CCLP’s staff — they genuinely, conscientiously, and unceasingly look for ways to do our work better, to learn more from the community and their fellow advocates, and to follow through and make sure the impact is there.

On all fronts, we’re making progress. On all fronts, there is still so much more to do.

(A version of this letter was presented at this year’s Communities Against Poverty event.)

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.