Feb 25, 2016

An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer has dedicated her career to helping people meet their basic needs and expanding economic opportunity. She serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

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Let’s guarantee paid sick leave for every worker

by | Feb 25, 2016

Though it’s an inconvenient truth for working Coloradans and Colorado businesses, sooner or later, all of us will get sick or be injured. Most of us will need to respond to a loved one’s medical emergency at some point. In fact, nearly one in five adults is a caregiver to an elderly family member or friend.

Of course, young children are among the most susceptible to illness. Yet, in two-thirds of households with children both parent works creating a challenge when there is an earache or fever or sore throat. Unfortunately, not everyone can attend to the needs of their kids or loved ones without jeopardizing their pay or their job.

Among private-sector workers, 61 percent have access to paid sick days. But that statistic hides great disparity. While 84 percent of the top quartile of wage earners get paid sick days, only 30 percent of wage earners in the bottom quartile do. Those who can least afford to go without a day’s pay are the very workers who go without pay when they or a loved one are sick or injured.

Senate Bill 114, sponsored by Sen. Morgan Carroll, D-Aurora, attempted to provide some refuge for many working Coloradans whose don’t have access to paid sick time – providing greater peace of mind that workers can take care of themselves or their loved ones when absolutely necessary without taking a hit in their paychecks or losing their jobs. The bill would have required that for every 30 hours worked, an employee earns one hour of sick leave. Employers with 10 or more people can cap sick leave at 72 hours per year. Keeping in mind the more finite resources of small businesses, employers with fewer than 10 people would have been allowed to cap paid sick leave at 40 hours per year.

Paid sick leave is an essential cornerstone to family economic security, health and stable employment. Since people and their family members inevitably get sick, lack of earned sick time threatens family economic security. In a national survey of low-wage workers by OxFam America, one in seven low-wage workers reported losing a job in the past four years because they were sick or needed to care for a family member. Low-wage working moms suffer from the financial fallout of illness or caregiving even more often. One in five had lost a job due to illness or injury or providing care for another.

Unfortunately, while this reasonable bill could have helped many low-income Coloradans it died in the Senate State, Veterans and Military Affairs Committee on a 3-2 vote on Monday.

A 2011 study of a law similar to SB 114 in San Francisco found that workers used an average of only three paid sick days a year. SB 114 would have established a balance between the human needs of employees and the reasonable expectations of employers for dependability. From a practical standpoint,  it is difficult to understand why all Colorado businesses don’t provide at least limited paid sick time despite the added expense (though most already do). Employees who come to work sick are considerably less productive and pose a risk of infecting other workers and even customers – potentially affecting the bottom line. Not to mention, essentially forcing workers to choose between employment and their health or their families’ health couldn’t possibly be good for employee morale.

Sooner or later, paid sick leave will have to be addressed. Until then, too many Coloradans will continue to struggle with the difficult dilemma of being a “good employee” and protecting their paycheck vs. taking care of themselves and their families.

-Chaer Robert

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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.