Mar 1, 2019

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Legislative Update: March 1, 2019

by | Mar 1, 2019

Legislative Half-Time Report
With roughly two months down and two months to go in the 2019 Legislative Session, we thought it would be a good time to review the status of bills Colorado Center on Law and Policy is leading this year.

In our Family Economic Security Program (FESP), we’re pleased to report that the House Business Affairs and Labor Committee passed House Bill 1118 on a 7-4 vote on Wednesday. If approved by legislators and signed by the governor, HB 1118 would give families the chance to avoid eviction or find other housing by extending the eviction notification period from three to 10 days. The legislation now moves to the House floor. Thanks to Reps. Dominique Jackson and Rochelle Galindo for their work in sponsoring the bill in the House and for Sen. Angela Williams for hopefully guiding it through the Senate. A special thank you is owed to our partners at Colorado Coalition for the Homeless for their tireless work in support of the legislation. Please contact Jack Regenbogen at jregenbogen@copolicy.org if you’d like to join supporters of HB 1118. Learn more about the legislation in this Colorado Politics op-ed.

The practice of garnishing wages is used by creditors to ensure that people pay their legitimate debts. Unfortunately, the current protections that Colorado law provides for those whose pay is garnished are inadequate. This is particularly problematic for Coloradans in lower-wage jobs who are struggling to make ends meet. Developed by CCLP, HB 1189 would ease the burden of wage garnishment on the hardest-hit Coloradans by requiring clearer and more-timely notice of garnishment. Better notice would allow people to understand their options and prepare for a possible reduction in their income. The bill also would reduce the amount subject to garnishment to help people meet household needs while paying their debts. In addition, HB 1189 would create a general hardship exemption that would allow for garnishment to be further reduced – or eliminated altogether – in certain circumstances. HB 1189 is scheduled to be heard by the House Finance Committee on March 11. To join the coalition of supporters for the bill, contact Bob Connelly at rlconn2@gmail.com.

Another FESP bill, HB 1107, would establish a three-year pilot program that would let economically challenged Coloradans request direct assistance of up to $400 a year for a specific emergency support service —such as short-term child care assistance or a bus pass. For a tiny fraction of the state’s budget ($1 million a year for three years), this innovative pilot project would help at least 2,000 Coloradans every year secure or retain a job and reduce their reliance on public benefit programs. The bill has garnered positive legislative feedback, passing with bipartisan support on Jan. 30 out of the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee. It has since moved on to House Appropriations, where the committee will negotiate the funds that will be appropriated to the program. If you are interested in supporting the bill, please contact Laura Ware at lauraware985@gmail.com.

Yet another CCLP-led proposal, HB 1013, would extend Colorado’s child care tax credit for households earning less than $25,000 to 2028. The tax credit is essential in defraying the cost of child care, which is consistently one of the highest-ticket basic needs for working families, according to CCLP’s Self-Sufficiency Standard report. Child care is essential to employment, which is in turn essential to reducing poverty. The bill was approved by the House Finance Committee on a vote of 10-1. It is currently awaiting approval from the House Appropriations Committee.

Among legislation supported or developed by CCLP’s Health Care program, CCLP was instrumental in developing HB 1004.  which would advance work to develop an insurance plan that would rely on state infrastructure, provide affordable, high-quality care and increase competition in the individual market. The proposal requires the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing and the Colorado Division of Insurance to develop a proposal for legislative approval so that implementation of the plan could begin in 2020. The proposal must contain a detailed analysis of a state option that weighs  affordability to consumers at different income levels, administrative and financial costs, ease of implementation and likelihood of success in meeting the bill’s objectives. The bill was approved by the House Appropriations Committee on Thursday and will go to the House floor for a vote soon. If you are interested in supporting the bill, contact Bethany Pray at bpraycopolicy.org.

CCLP also supports HB 1168, which would establish a reinsurance program in Colorado designed to make health coverage more affordable to purchase. As conceived by HB 1168, the program starts with the basic idea that federal subsidies that are now used to make premiums affordable for individual Coloradans, can be partly repurposed to address the impact that very high-cost enrollees have on all plan premiums.  In addition to using those federal pass-through funds, HB 1168 uses a unique mechanism to modify reimbursement rates after an individual’s care has reached a set price point, while also ensuring that primary care, behavioral health care and some hospitals can be exempted. The bill passed the House Health and Insurance Committee on Feb. 27 with a bipartisan vote of 8-2. CCLP and its partners at Colorado Consumer Health Initiative supported an amendment that would ensure that unintended negative effects on people living under 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL) would be minimized.

In the weeks ahead, CCLP will help to introduce a bill to establish a legal defense fund to provide legal representation to Coloradans facing eviction. We’re also working on introducing legislation that will help ensure that hospitals that receive federal, state and local tax exemptions provide appropriate services to the communities they are funded to serve, a concept known as community benefit. Contact Jack Regenbogen to support the legal defense fund and Allison Neswood to support the community benefit bill.

– By Bob Mook

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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.