Aug 12, 2020

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Lived Experience: Advocacy effort empowers mother of three

by | Aug 12, 2020

Editor’s note: This is this first in a series of blog and multimedia postings entitled Lived Experience. The project highlights how Coloradans benefit from policy and advocacy efforts led by CCLP and its partners.

For anyone, a 30th birthday marks a major milestone in adult life. For Hannah, who was pregnant and working regular shifts at a grocery chain at the time, her 30th birthday was more than a milestone; it was accompanied by the unexpected development that her water broke almost two months early.

After three days in the hospital, Hannah (who asked to remain anonymous for this vignette) underwent an emergency C-section and her only son was born. She spent the next month and a half at the hospital with her newborn son in the neonatal intensive care unit, or NICU.

Despite the unexpected and distressing reason behind Hannah and her son’s incredibly long stay in the NICU, she speaks of her experience there as being quite positive. “It got me wanting to be a nurse in the NICU with the other babies,” she says. “After I graduate and get my GED, that’s exactly what I want to do.”

Hannah is a full-time mother of three, advocate and student who is currently working towards earning a high school equivalency diploma through classes with the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE) in Denver. “They have really good programs,” Hannah says, “what they taught us and what they showed us was really helpful in life.”

But even with CWEE’s help, trying to earn her high school equivalency diploma has not been easy for Hannah — especially amid a global pandemic and without a stable home or source of income. After her stay in the NICU, Hannah only current source of income comes from being enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), through which Hannah receives a mere $400 a month to support herself and her family.

“Trying to balance $400 when I not only have to buy him [Hannah’s son] new clothing, shoes, socks, more diapers, wipes… For me, being home after this pandemic, It’s not easy to manage everything on $400, plus I pay for my phone through TANF money, and money for the bus fare. It’s not an easy task, especially when I’m a single parent doing it by myself… It’s very frustrating.”

Armed with her lived experiences, Hannah has spent many hours advocating for statewide increases in TANF and other forms of Basic Cash Assistance. “I’ve been to the [Colorado state] Capitol twice,” Hannah says, “it was awesome… [but] it was terrifying.”

Speaking truth to power
During her time at the Capitol, Hannah spoke to state legislators about why they should support one of CCLP’s major legislative initiatives of 2020, Senate Bill 29. As it originally written, the legislation would have raised Basic Cash Assistance in Colorado by 10 percent and increased every year thereafter with an annual cost of living adjustment.

“[I testified] to them about how it is for us on TANF,” Hannah says. “We work our butts off for the little that we get. If they actually saw how hard we work every day — I can’t speak for everyone but I can speak for myself and I’m a hard worker…It’s very hard to have someone understand, [to] put them in our place to understand where we are at in life.”

Hannah explains how raising Basic Cash Assistance  “would be good for not only myself and people who are on TANF, but also people who are going to be on TANF in the future and help them as much as possible so that they can get themselves on their own feet and off the ground…It’s not [a raise] like $5, $6, $10–it’s a lot more than that. Everything adds up, from clothing to hygiene to food.”

What it means to testify
“A majority of people find testimony in such a formal setting to be daunting, and elected officials can sometimes come across as judgmental.” Chaer Robert, CCLP’s Legislative Director says. “When the subject of one’s testimony is one’s personal experience, it can have great impact with its authenticity and personal connection, but it does take strength and resolve. That is why CCLP values both our partner organizations who can help prepare people for the experience, and the individuals willing to speak from their experience to help others after them.”

Partially due to significant budget challenges that accompanied COVID-19 (including a 3.3 billion budget shortfall), the original SB 29 bill proved incredibly difficult to pass. Thanks to CCLP’s efforts and with the help of the Colorado Children’s Campaign, however, the bill was revised to provide an immediate, one-time $500 payment to families enrolled in Basic Cash Assistance to help meet their basic needs in the current time of crisis. Although the passage of the bill was a hard-fought victory for CCLP, it still fell short of the originally intended 10 percent increase paired with a yearly cost-of-living adjustment.

Hannah stands firm in her belief that legislators should have kept the original 10 percent increase bill. Even with the temporary, single month increase, the current amount that many recipients receive in Basic Cash Assistance is wholly inadequate for covering basic needs like food, hygiene and rent.

Continued advocacy is needed in order to ensure that all Coloradans like Hannah have access to equitable income sources to support themselves, support their families, and to pursue greater financial independence—which is one of Hannah’s primary goals for the future.

“We basically try to climb the ladder from being on TANF to being on our own and off of government help,” she said. “I want to be off TANF and have a good career and make my [own] money… [I want] to know that I’ll be okay.”

Hannah was connected to CCLP with the help of Stephanie Pacheco-Davidson through the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE) in Denver, a nonprofit organization that supports vulnerable workers through career and skills training, supportive services, and community investment. CWEE offers programs to participants in digital literacy, employment preparation, placement and retention services, and more. Learn more at https://cwee.org/

– By Andra Metcalfe

Recent articles

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.