Mar 31, 2017

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Legislative Update: March 31

by | Mar 31, 2017

Bill to Watch: HB 1305
In theory, every Coloradan should be able to participate in the state’s booming economy. In practice, however, that’s not always the case. Many Coloradans in the state’s criminal-records database continue to encounter permanent unemployment or under-employment and unstable incomes.

The reason these Coloradans face such a significant barrier to employment is a common question on job applications regarding past arrests and convictions. In some cases, employers note that applicants with criminal histories “need not apply” for advertised job openings. Though every employer has a right to conduct a criminal background check or to ask about one’s criminal history, these methods for preliminary screening can prevent many Coloradans from having a chance to compete for jobs.

Clearing the way for every Coloradan to compete for a job makes our economy stronger. That’s why CCLP has worked hard to develop House Bill 1305, the Colorado Chance to Compete Act. Sponsored in the House by Reps. Mike Foote, D-Lafayette and Jovan Melton, D-Aurora, the legislation prohibits employers from asking about criminal history or from including disqualifying language about criminal history on job applications.

Under HB 1304, employers can still ask about a criminal history prior to a job interview, conduct a thorough background check and decline to hire an applicant with a criminal record. The bill would simply give such applicants a chance to get their “foot in the door” and be considered on their merits.

As the organization that developed HB 1305, we intend to keep Coloradans informed about its progress in the days and weeks to come.

On the Radar: SB 267
Critical programs and services in Colorado perennially face cuts even in times of prosperity because of the budgetary constraints under the amendment known as the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (or TABOR). This paradox has been inadvertently exacerbated by a hospital provider fee established by lawmakers in 2009.

In short, the fee lets Colorado’s Medicaid program draw matching federal dollars to fund hospital care for indigent patients and expand access to Medicaid without using General Fund dollars. On the downside, under TABOR, the fee essentially forces the state legislature to cut government programs and under-fund other priorities. To avoid budget cuts in roads and schools, Gov. John Hickenlooper has proposed cuts in the provider fee in recent years – largely, at the expense of health care facilities in rural Colorado.

Known as the Sustainability of Rural Colorado Act, Senate Bill 267 would create an enterprise to collect and administer the hospital provider fee and provide other services for Colorado hospitals. Creating an enterprise would exempt revenue from the fee from TABOR’s spending limits, which would allow the fee to grow to the full extent allowed under federal law without putting pressure on other government priorities, like K-12 education. The legislation is sponsored by Sens. Lucia Guzman, D-Denver, and Jerry Sonnenberg, R-Sterling, in the Senate and Reps. Jon Becker, R-Fort Morgan and KC Becker, D-Boulder in the House.

While CCLP has endorsed legislation to create an enterprise for the provider fee in previous years and applauds lawmakers for working on a bipartisan budget solution, we’re gravely concerned that other budgetary impacts of SB 267 would hurt low-income Coloradans in the aggregate and cause future fiscal problems for the state. While we don’t support the bill in its current form, we are hopeful that those concerns will be addressed as the bill moves through the General Assembly.
– 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.