Jan 10, 2018

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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Legislative Preview 2018: Family Economic Security

by | Jan 10, 2018

In 2018, CCLP’s Family Economic Security team will collaborate with national partners to protect the interests of low-income Coloradans in federal policy discussions. Since Congress may delegate additional authority to states regarding critical programs and services, we are prepared to work with partner organizations to ensure that decision-makers in Colorado make choices that are in the best interests of struggling families throughout the state.

Here is a look ahead at our priorities for the state legislative session:

Family Economic Security Legislation: Housing

Stable, affordable housing is a cornerstone of financial and emotional security. Roughly one out of two Colorado renters pays more than 30 percent of their income in rent, and an alarming 75 percent of extremely low income renters pays more than half their income in rent. For every 100 low-income renters, there are only 27 affordable units available. Some parts of the state that are not growing face deterioration of their housing stock, and loss of more affordable homes. We are working with our organizational partners on a large slate of housing legislation. Among our priorities:

Housing funding from Unclaimed Property Fund
Once again, we will back a proposal to use a small portion of the Unclaimed Property Trust Fund — $30 million a year for three years with two additional years at $20 million per year—for affordable housing. The Division of Housing in the State Department of Local Affairs would administer the funding.

Permitted uses would include:  down-payment assistance, home rehabilitation, new construction of homes for those earning less than 80 percent of Area Median Income (AMI), mobile home repair, leveraging Low Income Housing Tax Credit funding for housing, and rental assistance. Priority populations for rental assistance would include homeless families with school age children, Medicaid clients in nursing homes who could live in the community with in-home services, family unification programs, homeless veterans, those earning less than 60 percent of AMI, and survivors of domestic violence.

Eliminating sales tax for manufactured housing
Approximately 4 percent of homes in Colorado are manufactured homes. They represent an important segment of the affordable-housing stock and remain an unsubsidized, private-sector option for struggling families, seniors and people with disabilities. In today’s market, many of these homes are appreciating in value; allowing owners to build some equity. Too often though, they are segregated into mobile home parks, sited on rented lots and vulnerable to redevelopment pressure. Colorado law is conflicted, treating manufactured homes as both real and personal property.

In 2018 CCLP is proposing eliminating the state sales tax on new manufactured homes. Such homeowners are already subject to annual property tax on their homes. Eliminating the state sales tax would save consumers approximately $1,000 on the average $66,100 purchase price of a new manufactured home. Given that the median income for manufactured home households is $30,000, this legislation would provide significant tax relief to those families pursuing the dream of homeownership.

Preservation of manufactured homes
In 2017, we actively supported House Bill 1354, which removed the statutory requirement that county treasurers sell manufactured homes to the public if their owners were delinquent on their annual property taxes. While the approved bill will keep many low- and moderate-income Coloradans in their homes, CCLP had considerable reservations about the legislation because it failed to address a provision in Colorado law that allows a county to possess and dispose of manufactured homes worth less than $1,000 if their owners are delinquent on their annual property taxes. Thus, we will be working closely with partner organizations to pursue a “clean-up” bill so that vulnerable families can remain in their homes and avoid government-imposed displacement.

Copy of rental documents
We will once again back legislation to guarantee that tenants receive a copy of their lease, plus a receipt for rent paid by cash or money order. Receipts would be provided automatically if  the tenant pays the landlord in-person or upon request if the tenant drops off the payment. This bill would enact into law a basic, common practice in the tenant-landlord relationship. We anticipate this will help stabilize landlord tenant relationships by preventing misunderstandings. Because it is common for low-income renters to pay rent with cash or money order, there is no record of a transaction unless a landlord provides a receipt of payment. As a result, many Colorado renters have been vulnerable to eviction or late charges because they were not able to prove that they had already paid rent – creating greater instability for those who are struggling to make ends meet or to apply for credit.

Family Economic Security Legislation: Employment

Nearly 20 percent of prime working-age Coloradans are not working, even as Colorado’s economic development is constrained in some areas by a lack of workers. Many want to work, but face barriers to employment.  CCLP, in conjunction with the Colorado Skills2Compete Coalition, conducted a needs assessment of community and publicly funded employment service organizations that encompassed 63 of Colorado’s 64 counties. Here are the policy priorities that were identified as part of the needs assessment:

Support services for those seeking training and employment
The assessment revealed the need for emergency supportive service funds for participants’ employment goals.

The availability of support services – such as emergency child care, work equipment, legal assistance, or fees, is critical for those with barriers to employment to successfully pursue an employment or training opportunity.

We developed legislation that would create a supportive services fund that public agencies and community-based organizations can draw from to serve low-income participants. It would appropriate General Fund dollars (approximately $2.5 million per year) to support these needs. It would establish a reimbursement mechanism for eligible organizations to provide employment-related support services upfront. Participant benefits would be capped at $400 per person per annum. While not providing all the comprehensive support services a person might need, the fund would meet the small-dollar needs that can otherwise derail a person’s employment pursuits.

Integrating and enhancing local community employment services
The needs assessment also revealed that current funding streams for local employment services are not enough to adequately serve individuals with barriers to employment. These employment services are required to fully integrate community-based organizations and public agencies so that they can collectively and sufficiently serve job-seeker who have barriers to employment such as recent divorce, homelessness, a criminal record or low levels of literacy. The state’s geographic size and economic diversity require tailored solutions developed locally by public agencies in conjunction with community organizations to address unmet needs and reduce poverty.

We developed legislation that would appropriate $3 million for four years from the general fund to be distributed on a formula basis to local communities. An additional $600,000 per year would be appropriated to rural communities, to be distributed on a formula basis in recognition of the significant challenges facing these communities. The bill would require local community-based organizations and public agencies to collaborate on and implement a plan that would address a community’s unmet need specifically tailored to job-seekers with barriers to employment in their own communities.

Other Family Economic Security Legislation

“Clean slate” legislation
Society expects people to work, pay restitution and support their families after they’ve been incarcerated. Unfortunately, many Coloradans with criminal records experience unemployment, food insecurity and housing instability — fueling poverty and recidivism rates.

To rectify the problem, CCLP developed “clean-slate” legislation that provides for automatically sealing certain criminal records so that they are not available to the public, but can still be accessed by law enforcement, family courts and victims of crime. Our clean-slate proposal will only apply to certain nonviolent offenses that are already eligible for sealing under Colorado law. It will eliminate costly and burdensome steps including court petition and filing fees for individuals who have remained free of misdemeanor and felony convictions for a specified period of time. By removing barriers to housing and employment, this bill will give people a chance to move on with their lives and support their families.

Prize-linked savings
The personal savings rate in the United States has been declining, most recently hitting a low of 2.9 percent of total income saved on a per-person average. As wages have not kept pace with expenses, saving money has become harder. According to the Federal Reserve’s 2016 Survey of Household Economic Decision-making (SHED), 44 percent of people would not be able to come up with money to meet a $400 emergency without resorting to credit cards or having to sell something.

Prize-linked savings are a proven technique to encourage new savers. They give people a chance to win prizes in exchange for making deposits into a savings account without putting their money or interest at risk. Studies show that savers maintain their savings, and tend not to withdraw their money even if they don’t win a prize. Under a proposal advanced by CCLP, with support from members of the Financial Equity Coalition, financial institutions and credit unions would explicitly be allowed to offer prize-linked savings programs in Colorado.

– By Chaer Robert

Recent articles

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 2

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs. Part 2/2.

CCLP’s 2024 legislative wrap-up, part 1

CCLP's 2024 legislative wrap-up focused on expanding access to justice, removing administrative burden, supporting progressive tax and wage policies, preserving affordable communities, and reducing health care costs.

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.