Feb 4, 2016

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Legislative Update: Feb. 4, 2016

by | Feb 4, 2016

Hope for affordable housing
The dearth of affordable housing continues to vex low- to middle-class households in Colorado. According to one recent news report, hundreds of people lined up for the chance to apply for a new affordable-housing development in Denver ‑- only to be turned away because the crowd grew too large.

Recent statistics show the housing crisis is intensifying. According to the National Housing Conference, over 325,000 Colorado households are paying more than 30 percent of their monthly income on rent. Meanwhile, an estimated 165,000 households spend more than half of their monthly income on rent – leaving scant funds for health care, food, childcare and other basic needs.

It would seem that the easy answer to this problem would be building more affordable-housing units. But while a number of developments are under construction, officials say Colorado’s population boom and a decline in federal funding make it difficult to keep up with the demand. Clearly, the problem is so severe and widespread that the free market alone can’t improve matters due to the skyrocketing cost of land, construction and other expenses. Because this issue is critical to the health and well-being of low-income families, CCLP is taking a lead in developing and advocating for legislative solutions.

On Tuesday, Claire Levy, CCLP’s Executive Director, testified in support of Senate Bill 59, which would have lifted the restrictions that prohibit municipalities from requiring developers to construct or provide affordable housing when new development would produce an influx of new workers.

“Safe, affordable housing is the foundation for economic security and a better future,” Claire said during her testimony. “Colorado has done phenomenally well at creating good jobs in the aftermath of the great recession. Those jobs have brought an influx of people. They all need somewhere to live.” Though SB 59 would have given local governments more tools to meet the needs of their residents, the Senate Finance Committee rejected the measure by a vote of 3-2. Opponents cited concerns about interference with the free market and their perception that the bill would have effectively imposed “rent control” on developers.

Other affordable-housing bills awaiting consideration this session include SB 57, which grants the Division of Housing more power to promote the development, safety and maintenance of mobile home parks across the state. CCLP supports the bill, which will be considered by the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on Feb. 10. Another measure that CCLP supports, HB 1006, clarifies the availability of a sales tax exemption for housing authorities to decrease the cost of developing affordable-housing units.

Also this session, CCLP will again introduce a bill that would dedicate a portion of the state’s unclaimed property trust fund for five years to increase the availability of affordable housing. Last year, it was estimated that $25 million from the unclaimed property fund would be dedicated to affordable housing if the bill had been signed into law. The funds will support programs that provide rental assistance, promote construction, acquisition and rehabilitation of rental housing and facilitate home ownership for low-income households.

As Colorado’s booming population pushes rents ever higher, CCLP will continue to explore policies that will help low-income Coloradans with the most basic need: finding a place where they can afford to live.

Bill to Watch: HB 1166
In negotiating compensation, some employers may consider a prospective employee’s salary history rather than paying what the job and the employee’s experience are actually worth. While this practice may reduce a company’s personnel costs, it also limits an applicant’s bargaining power and potentially depresses their lifetime earning power if their future income remains tethered to what may have been an underpaying job.

House Bill 1166, sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, would prohibit the unfair recruiting practice of seeking information about past salary, benefits and other compensation. CCLP supports the bill.

On the Radar
HB 1100 would let “homeless youth” qualify for in-state tuition at Colorado colleges and universities. CCLP supports the bill.

HB 1167 would require the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment to establish a program that identifies Colorado employers who meet certain “family-friendly” criteria. CCLP supports the bill.

SB 114 requires all private employers with more than 10 workers to provide sick leave to their employees accrued at one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked. CCLP supports the bill.

Off the Radar
HB 1015, a bill which would have repealed all laws implementing the Affordable Care Act (ACC) contingent on the ACC’s repeal by Congress and the President of the United States, was postponed indefinitely by the House State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee. CCLP opposed the legislation.

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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.