Apr 26, 2018

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Let Colorado communities set their own minimum wage

by | Apr 26, 2018

The cost of living varies substantially across the state of Colorado — making it more challenging for many Coloradans to make ends meet. Though Colorado voters in 2016 approved an incremental increase in the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020, the current minimum wage of $10.20 an hour is too low for Coloradans working and living in higher-cost communities across the state. Even when the minimum wage reaches $12, we know that it still will not be enough for people to live on in many communities.

According to numbers updated from the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado, an estimate of how much money people need to earn to support their basic needs, a single person working full-time at $10.20 an hour would struggle to make ends meet in half of Colorado’s counties.

The situation is even more precarious for families with children. Once we add child care into the equation, a single adult with one child living anywhere in Colorado would have to work two to three full-time, year-round, minimum-wage jobs to get by. Even two adults each working a full-time, minimum-wage job fall short in providing for a family of four in many communities.

While the Colorado economy is booming in many respects, low-wage workers are still struggling because wages have remained mostly stagnant — even though the cost of living continues to increase year after year. Minimum wage workers in Colorado include nursing assistants, home health care workers, preschool teachers and emergency medical technicians providing essential services in our communities. According to recent data from the National Low Income Housing Coalition, the hourly wage needed to afford a one-bedroom apartment in the majority of counties across Colorado exceeds the current minimum wage.

Fortunately, state legislators are considering legislation that would let communities raise the minimum wage to better meet the needs of its residents. Last week, the House Local Government Committee approved HB 1368, which would repeal a bill enacted in 1999 that prohibits Colorado’s cities and towns from establishing a higher minimum wage than the state minimum wage.

Research indicates that restoring power to local governments to set a local minimum wage above the statewide minimum can have positive results for the economic security of workers, the bottom line of businesses and the health of local economies. HB 1368 simply allows communities to adjust the minimum wage to what they believe is appropriate for their locality.

At a time when more jobs are paying below what it takes to get by, why continue to limit the ability of local jurisdictions to exert local control over their local economy to better meet the needs of their residents?

Passing HB 1368 will help us create a Colorado that works for all of us, not just the wealthy few and big corporations. It would enable people to earn decent wages so that more working Coloradans can support their families.

Working families and the middle class are the engines of the economy. When we have good jobs that let us support our families, educate our children, afford our health care, shop in our neighborhoods and retire in security, we drive the economy forward and build thriving communities.

HB 1368 passed the House on Thursday, April 26 and will now move to the Senate for consideration. We hope you will join us in supporting this important measure that gives local control to communities to set a minimum wage at a level that allows workers to live and thrive where they work.

-By Jesus Loayza

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.

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

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.