Mar 10, 2017

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Legislative Update: March 10, 2017

by | Mar 10, 2017

Legislative Halftime Report
With eight weeks down and eight weeks to go in the 2017 session, Colorado legislators have advanced several bipartisan measures that will make a positive difference to low-income Coloradans. While some CCLP-backed legislation did not make the final cut, we’re still working with lawmakers to develop other big proposals this session.

First, the good news: So far, four bills led by CCLP have gained support from both sides of the aisle. One of our measures, House Bill 1143, is heading to the Governor’s desk after sailing through the House and the Senate without a single “no” vote. The legislation would direct the state to audit Medicaid communications with clients. These audits would review Medicaid notices for legal sufficiency, clarity and accuracy. Audit findings, conclusions and recommendations will be presented to legislative committees, which can then consider whether the results warrant further reforms.

HB 1143 is part of a package intended to address shortcomings in client correspondence and notifications when Medicaid health care and essential services are about to be changed or terminated. The package, which also includes HB 1126 and Senate Bill 121,was drafted by CCLP and the Colorado Cross-Disability Coalition during last summer’s Interim Committee on Medicaid Client Correspondence. HB 1126 would ensure that an administrative law judge reviews the sufficiency of Medicaid termination notices at the beginning of an appeal hearing. SB 121 requires the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to engage in a process to improve Medicaid client communications – including client letters and notices – that deny, reduce, suspend or terminate Medicaid benefits.

Another CCLP-backed bill, HB 1002, cleared its first House committee on a 12-1 vote. Sponsored by Rep. Brittany Pettersen, D-Lakewood, the legislation would continue for three more income tax years the child care tax credit for workers earning less than $25,000. Learn more about HB 1002 in this CCLP fact sheet.

Now, a little bad news: Some legislation that will roll back progress for mid- to low-income Coloradans is still alive and kicking. SB 3 would repeal Colorado’s health insurance exchange, Connect for Health Colorado, a critical conduit for affordable health coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The bill cleared its first hurdle in a Senate committee.

Two other bills that CCLP strongly supported met an early demise this session: SB 118, developed by Colorado Skills2Compete and CCLP, would have made it easier for students to make wise investments by requiring private occupational schools to provide info about education outcomes. SB 98 which CCLP strongly supported, would have allowed residents to have an opportunity to purchase manufactured housing communities, while giving landowners tax incentives for entering into such deals. Regardless of these defeats, CCLP will continue to explore ways to make private occupational schools more transparent for consumers as well as policy remedies to preserve manufactured housing communities.

Over the next few weeks, CCLP will lead a measure that would extend the notification period for tenants without a lease to vacate their residences. In addition, CCLP is running legislation to address a persistent barrier to employment by prohibiting most employers from asking about past criminal records on preliminary job applications.

As with any session, things promise to get interesting over the next couple of months. Expect sharp divisions between lawmakers over HB 1187, which would let voters decide if they want to change the methodology for computing state revenues cap so that the state could more adequately meet the needs of its residents.

Also, keep an eye on a potential showdown over HB 1242, a bipartisan effort to use a mix of existing revenue and a sales-tax increase to fund and fix Colorado’s deteriorating transportation infrastructure. Although CCLP has not taken a position on this bill, we’ll need to consider whether there are genuine benefits for people who rely on public transportation that would offset the increase in the regressive sales tax.

Keep up to date with the session through CCLP’s Facebook and Twitter feeds.

– 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.