Sep 29, 2022

Recent articles

Income & Self-Sufficiency Policy Forum Recap, Part 1: The Self-Sufficiency Standard and barriers to self-sufficiency

by | Sep 29, 2022

At the beginning of September, CCLP hosted its second Policy Forum series event on Income and the Self-Sufficiency Standard in Colorado. We are grateful to those who were able to join us in conversation. Attendees raised important questions about the income trends as well as what it means to be self-sufficient. From guaranteed income to the barriers and inequities of having a lower income, to the cliff effect in government assistance programs, there is certainly much more Colorado must do in order to give everyone a chance at self-sufficiency. Similar to our Affordable Housing Policy Forum from this summer, this event was proof that there is never one way to solve the systemic barriers facing our communities, but it gives us insight into the goals and potential outcomes we can achieve when we place our focus on those most marginalized by the practices and institutions in place. 

This is part 1 in a series of 2. Continue reading about the event and the issues of income and the Self-Sufficiency Standard in part 2 with a link at the bottom of this article. 

Read more about income & the Self-Sufficiency bills passed in 2022 in our Income Legislation list here.

Poverty vs. Self-Sufficiency 

Charles Brennan, CCLP’s Deputy Director of Research, opened the event with a presentation on topline data and emerging trends from the upcoming Self-Sufficiency Standard report. 

CCLP has partnered with the University of Washington’s Center for Women’s Welfare in creating the Colorado Self-Sufficiency Standard. Mr. Brennan described the Self-Sufficiency Standard as a basic needs budget; one that estimates the costs for a household’s basic needs, such as housing, food, childcare, transportation, etc., and adds them together to estimate the income needed to cover all of those expenses. Whereas, the Official Poverty Measure determines poverty status by calculating a household’s pre-tax income against a threshold where food costs are approximately one-third of a household’s total expenses. The OPM severely downplays the number of families living in poverty today, making the Self-Sufficiency Standard a much more accurate measure of economic need. 

Through their research, the Center and Mr. Brennan estimated the income needs across the state, varying by county; what is self-sufficient in Boulder County is going to look different than in Lake County. As Mr. Brennan showed in his presentation, the Self-Sufficiency Standard proves how difficult it can be to set statewide standard eligibility criteria for public benefit programs, such as SNAP. While the current eligibility requirements may be adequate for individuals living in the Eastern Plains, they may not address the needs of households in mountain resort communities which must earn twice as much money to cover their household expenses. Mr. Brennan explained to our audience that the Standard also differs by demographics, where the most vulnerable populations include Latinx households, single mothers of color, and those with less than a high school diploma (or equivalent). Crucially, the latest data proves that working a full-time, year-round job does not guarantee a household will earn enough to make ends meet—and if wages are too low compared to costs, then even working more hours may not necessarily cover a household’s needs. 

Mr. Brennan also referred to our Overlooked and Undercounted report released earlier this year, which provides insight into how much public investment would be needed to ensure all households were at or above Self-Sufficiency. Overall, $10.3 billion would be needed to allow all households in Colorado to meet their basic needs based on their household composition, county of residence, and current income. 

We anticipate the publication of this report in October 2022, so please check back next month for the full report! 


Barriers That Cause People to Fall Behind  

During the second part of our forum, we asked our panelists to provide examples of the barriers that cause people to fall behind and below the Self-Sufficiency Standard. Managing Attorney, Ellen Giarratana, stated having a criminal record impacts a person’s ability to earn a living wage throughout their life. Regardless of what the record is for, or even if charges were never filed — having a record can impact an individual’s ability to cover their basic needs. Earlier this year, Ms. Giarratana, alongside many of our partners, helped to pass the Clean Slate law, SB 22-099, to address some of these difficulties by creating a better process for record sealing. The act of record-sealing means that records are not readily available to the public, making it easier for individuals to access higher education, gain employment, find housing, or even donate an organ.  

Our Legislative Director, Chaer Robert, provided additional barriers, such as the apparent digital divide between generations of Americans, the level of skills jobseekers and current workers have, the rising inflation costs, and the lack of intergenerational wealth.  

Ms. Robert explained that employment and economic opportunities can be reduced because of inadequate equipment or devices, limited skills, or even a lack of trust and comfort in using digital technology. Even those with a college degree or other credentials may struggle to remain competitive with current digital expectations. Commonly, workers are required to use computers on the job at a level above where their actual skills might be. And while an online and remote option may be available, there still may be other skills needed in order to earn an income. This dynamic is true for both jobseekers and current workers who want to advance their abilities. Often, economic opportunities and high-paying positions have been concentrated on those who already have advanced skills or a degree, leaving behind entry-level workers. 

Another concern raised in the event is the rising inflation costs. As Ms. Robert suggested, many individuals can feel like they are falling behind based on their personal economic situation. Due to the rising costs of rent, childcare, travel costs, etc., we have seen an increase in nearly 50% of parents helping their adult children between ages 18-29. These costs also include food, insurance, a cell phone bill, and/or tuition. For young adults without this family support, intergenerational wealth or a savings cushion, the high costs of living can drive an increase in debt, specifically through credit cards, simply to meet their basic needs.  


Part 2: Policy ideation, room for improvement, and the challenges ahead, read here.


Interested in learning more about affordable housing in Colorado, check out our last three articles and our Housing Legislation list here: 

For Part 1: The Event, ARPA, & more, read here. 

For Part 2: ADUs, mobile homes, rent stabilization, and new development, read here. 

For Part 3: Attendee questions and resources, read here. 

Read more about affordable housing bills passed in 2022 in our Housing Legislation list here.

Recent articles


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.