Aug 30, 2018

Recent articles

How We Work: A CCLP Success Story

by | Aug 30, 2018

Editorial note: This posting was re-purposed from a chapter in CCLP’s 2017-18 Annual Report

Families that rely on basic cash assistance will get a bump in their monthly payments starting in September, 2018. That’s thanks to the leadership of CCLP staff, our partners in the direct-service, advocacy and faith-based communities and dozens of brave Colorado Works’ recipients who devoted their time and energy to explain to the state’s Human Services Board why the increase was needed.

Coloradans who participate in Colorado Works, Colorado’s version of the federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, usually have no other source of income than the cash assistance provided by that program. They are among the lowest-income residents of our state. Previously, a Coloradan with two children received a maximum of $462 a month in cash assistance — an amount barely enough to cover food and hygiene products, let alone rent. Cash assistance hasn’t been increased in 10 years, during which time the cost of living in Colorado has skyrocketed. With the raise, the average eligible family will get an additional $46 in monthly assistance. Although $46 a month might be considered a pittance by many Coloradans’ standards, it will make a big difference for the state’s lowest-income families, covering the cost of nine meals for a family of four, one week of infant formula or gas for two week.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), which championed the proposal, settled on a 10 percent increase because that’s how much counties could afford to spend within their existing TANF appropriation from the state. Counties are projected to spend $10 million less than they received in federal TANF funds last year, and due to several years of under-spending, county reserves have now ballooned to an amount that exceeds $50 million. Before the recipients could receive the raise, the proposal needed to be approved by the nine-member Human Services Board, the body that adopts the rules that establish the policies of CDHS.

Proposal faced opposition
But while the 10 percent increase was much-needed and long-overdue, getting the Human Services Board to approve the raise was fraught with challenges. The proposal was met with opposition by Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), the influential lobbying organization representing county governments.

CCI and county government representatives agreed that an increase in cash assistance was justified, but they believed the state legislature should approve the increase using money from the state’s general fund. In particular, counties were concerned that drawing from their reserves would jeopardize funding that some have relied on to support other programs, such as child welfare and child care assistance — even though there was sufficient money to support an increase while maintaining those programs.

“When CCI first took a position opposing this, we knew that passing an increase would be an incredible challenge,” said Jack Regenbogen, CCLP’s Family Economic Security Attorney and Policy Advocate.

Undeterred, Jack and CCLP’s Family Economic Security Manager Chaer Robert drove to Cañon City to testify in front of the Human Services Board. They were joined by Laurie Harvey, former CEO of the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE) a direct-service organization that helps individuals receiving TANF obtain employment so they can transition off public assistance.

Before the Cañon City hearing, Jack put together a packet of materials that included endorsements and testimonials. He gathered dozens letters of support for the proposal. Members of the faith-based community also testified in favor of the proposal. But while the divided board advanced the proposal, with several members absent at this hearing Jack said he knew that he and the partners would need to “step up their game” to win final approval in a July 6 hearing in Denver.

Responding to this challenge, Jack wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post supporting the proposal. He worked with partners and CCLP staff in developing fact sheets and information graphics to be distributed among advocates in meetings and social media. Jack also encouraged all advocates with connections to Human Service Board members to reach out to them individually. Aubrey Hasvold, Advocacy Manager of Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, filmed and edited a video where a client talked about the need to raise cash assistance.

“We knew that when we got to that hearing in July that it was really important for the clients to lend their voices and perspectives,” Jack said.

All hands on deck
With that knowledge, CWEE invited Jack to attend an awards ceremony honoring those who are advancing through the program. Jack recruited a few dozen volunteers to testify in support of the increase during the July Human Services Board hearing. However, the challenge for these parents was getting transportation, food and child care during the hearing because their time and resources were limited. One of the partners from the Colorado Children’s Campaign suggested obtaining funding from The Colorado Trust to pay for taxi service, breakfast burritos and sandwiches for those who testified. The coalition also arranged to set aside at a CDHS conference room with toys and activities where the children could play throughout the hearing.

The day of the hearing, the CWEE clients spoke of their struggles and communicated the need for raising basic cash assistance. One mom was holding her baby and discussing the cost of laundry, when the child threw up on her, as if on cue. Another mom talked about trying to decide whether to use her last remaining dollars to buy diapers or tampons. Diapers won out since she is required to provide them for her child-care provider. Another mom talked about being a few dollars short on rent, which ballooned after the addition of late fees.

After five hours of emotional testimony and deliberation, the participants were called into the hearing room again when the board reconvened. Jack said everyone was still uncertain about the outcome of the hearing.

“At that point, if they were going to vote no, we wanted them to look the people who would be affected in the eye,” Jack said.

Fortunately, the board voted to approve the increase by a 6-2 vote, with one member absent.

“The room erupted into applause and hugging and tears,” Jack said. “There was such a display of emotion that was really incredible to witness.”

While the achievement was a collective effort involving 50 endorsing organizations and leadership within the All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition, including CCLP, CWEE and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Jack said much of the credit goes to the parents who testified.

“If not for the dozens of clients and their kids that came, I don’t think we would have gotten a permanent 10 percent increase. I think the community members felt very empowered by the experience… As a result, there’s $8 million more per year going directly in the pockets of Colorado’s lowest-income families to meet their basic needs.”

In retrospect, Jack credits teamwork and determination in making this victory for Colorado’s lowest-income families possible.

“The cards were really stacked against us,” he said. “We had to use every option we could think of from the op-ed to the breakfast burritos. Anything we could do to get this effort across the finish line.”

-By Bob Mook

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.