Sep 6, 2017

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Sen. Larry Crowder: A stalwart for rural Colorado

by | Sep 6, 2017

Colorado Center on Law and Policy is proud to bestow this year’s Champions of Economic Justice Awards on two people who have had a profound impact on the lives of low-income Coloradans: Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, and Edwin Kahn, Esq.

Both of these accomplished individuals will be honored at CCLP’s 4th Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct. 6 from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. at Embassy Suites Denver Downtown Convention Center. Be sure to register today!

A fifth-generation Coloradan, State Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, is a veteran of the Vietnam War, having dropped out of college after the Tet Offensive and enlisted in the U.S. Army. After his service, he worked as a telephone lineman and postal worker in southern Colorado. He now runs his own business outside of Alamosa as a cattleman. He has also served on the Alamosa County Land Use Board, worked as a Veterans’ Service Officer in Rio Grande County, and acted as chair of the Alamosa Republican Party from 2004 to 2010. In 2012 he was elected to the State Senate, representing Colorado’s 35th Senate District.

In 2013, with Democrats in control of both chambers of the state legislature Sen. Crowder was the only Republican in the state legislature to vote for expanding Medicaid in Colorado. Notably, his vote wasn’t needed for the bill’s passage and his fellow party members unanimously opposed the legislation.

More recently in the 2017 legislative session, Sen. Crowder teamed up with State Rep. Dan Thurlow, R-Grand Junction, to bring forward legislation that would have fundamentally altered the third rail of Colorado politics: Colorado’s Taxpayer’s Bill of Right’s (TABOR) state revenue cap. The bill made it through the state House but was defeated by Sen. Crowder’s own party in the Senate State Affairs Committee. Opponents of the bill accused him of violating the state constitution, but Sen. Crowder doubled-down: “I’m offended by those who say I’m going against the constitution. In rural Colorado, they’d rather have a hospital to bring their kids to than a $45 [tax rebate check].”

Last summer, Sen. Crowder worked closely and diligently with staff from Colorado Center on Law and Policy and the Colorado Cross Disability Coalition to bring forward a package of bills in the 2017 legislative session to overhaul the Medicaid client correspondence system. These bills, signed into law by Gov. Hickenlooper, will make Medicaid correspondence more informative and understandable, and allow clients to more effectively contest a reduction or denial of services. Sen. Crowder’s attention to detail and persistence through the cumbersome political process was critical to bringing these bills over the finish line.

A Colorado maverick
As a policy analyst for CCLP, my issue portfolio has grown to include some rural-specific issues that intersect with Sen. Crowder’s. So I was honored when asked to develop a profile acquainting this maverick of Colorado politics with CCLP’s friends and followers. When I reached out to Sen. Crowder about his availability for a phone interview, he invited me to breakfast in Denver instead.

Over biscuits and gravy, I kicked off the conversation by asking Sen. Crowder his thoughts on Senate Bill 267, the conglomerate of a bill that took months of negotiations to reclassify the hospital provider fee fund into an enterprise fund. CCLP advocated for years to reclassify the hospital provider fee fund into an enterprise because doing so would protect hundreds of millions of dollars from the TABOR revenue cap and thereby relieve pressure to reduce federal match dollars for Colorado’s Medicaid program. Sen. Crowder, whose district’s hospitals rely heavily upon federal match dollars, was also supportive of creating an enterprise, citing his district’s characteristics.

“You have to realize there’s a big difference between metro and rural [Colorado],” he said. “Health care in the metro area is big business. All we’re trying to do in rural Colorado is maintain and keep our doors open. It’s two different worlds completely.”

The bill has been credited by a number of rural lawmakers in Colorado for keeping many hospitals open in their districts, as well as injecting millions of dollars into transportation and classrooms. From Sen. Crowder‘s perspective, the bill was vital to keeping access to health care a reality for many of his constituents in his rural district, many of whom are covered by Medicaid.

Rural challenges
Encompassing 16 counties in the south-central and southeastern parts of the state, Senate District 35 is geographically the largest Senate district in the state. It stretches from the Rio Grande National Forest to the West, over Great Sand Dunes National Park and the Sangre De Cristo Mountain Range and continues East, and further South, to the Kansas and New Mexico borders. According to Sen. Crowder, it takes about five and a half hours to drive across it. Beyond the size and beauty of his district, I wanted to know what he felt made it unique.

“You have to look at the demographics of the district. I represent 16 counties, 15 of them are below the federal poverty level. Only one county out of 16 is sustainable. I am interested in economic development. I am not saying those words as a politician, like they all do.” Sen. Crowder is perhaps one of the best situated lawmakers to speak about economic development, having served as Chairman of the South Central Workforce Board.

He noted that the health care industry is vitally important for his district, but he also told me of the struggles just to keep jobs within his district, notably his first year in office when he successfully fought to keep three state prisons up and running.

“I do not believe in taking anything out of my area,” he said. “We should be talking about what to bring in, not take out.”

This comment sparked in my memory a recent series in The Denver Post about Colorado’s rural communities. Population decline, economic stagnation, resistance to change and a perceived sense of being forgotten by the Front Range were mentioned time and time again in interviews conducted by the Post.

“Nobody wants to change. Remember, there’re people that like their areas the way they are. I like my area the way it is,” Sen. Crowder told me, “but if we’re going to sustain and maintain that area we’re going to have to progress forward someway. Stagnation equates to decline, there’s no other explanation here.”

It’s clear, though, that he is optimistic about the prospect of sustaining and maintaining rural Colorado. He noticeably lit up with a smile when recounting the 2016 Pedal the Plains event, an annual festival intended to highlight Colorado’s rural and agricultural communities that took place in his district. He also envisions a day where equitable access to broadband—a big issue in Rural Colorado—will lead to a robust expansion of small businesses in his district all from one’s home.

Looking forward
Term-limited after 2020, Sen. Crowder mentioned no big plans to grandstand on any issues for his last three years in the legislature. On the contrary, he plans to continue working hard on the issues that impact his district, chiefly health care.

From his perch on the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, Crowder hopes to examine ways to lower the cost of prescription drugs and ensure that Colorado’s Medicaid program works in the best way possible. In fact, the whole purpose of his visit to Denver that day was to meet with folks on recent problems associated with Medicaid reimbursements to doctors.

Wrapping up, I asked the Senator his thoughts on the recent efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act and substantially reduce funding for Medicaid.

“The federal government said on the [Medicaid] expansion that they would pick up the ticket and start tampering down their payments in 2018, well I took them at their word,” he said. “So if I vote for Medicaid expansion, and you come and pull the rug out from under me, it’s not going work for me.”

With that statement, I had to ask: Why vote to expand Medicaid in the face of unanimous opposition from your party?

“I just felt it was the right vote to do,” he said. “You can’t vote no just because someone else does, that’s always the problem in politics. It had without a doubt the votes to pass with the Democrats in the majority, but that’s not to say that I should not vote what I think is right. “

Colorado Center on Law and Policy staff believe that the issues associated with poverty should transcend party politics. Sen. Crowder has embodied that vision throughout his time as a State Senator and we are proud to honor him this year as a Champion of Economic Justice. Register today for what promises to be a great event!

Kristopher Grant

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

CCLP’s legislative watch for April 5, 2024

For the 2024 legislative session, CCLP is keeping its eye on bills focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, preserving affordable communities, advocating for progressive tax and wage policies, and reducing health care costs.


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.