Sep 28, 2017

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Meet Ed Kahn: Champion of Economic Justice

by | Sep 28, 2017

Despite his contributions to protecting civil rights and advancing the interests of the state’s less-fortunate residents, it’s safe to say that Ed Kahn, Esq., is not a household name in Colorado.

Regardless, Ed is well-known and respected within Colorado’s legal community for being the attorney involved in some of the state’s most significant court cases over the last 50 years and for his role in founding several of the state’s most influential legal-advocacy organizations.

One of the founders of Colorado Center on Law and Policy, Mr. Kahn will be honored for his work in helping low-income Coloradans with a Champion of Economic Justice Award during our Fourth Annual Pathways from Poverty Breakfast, Oct. 6 at Embassy Suites Denver Downtown Convention Center Hotel.

A private attorney since 1965, Ed’s pro-bono work includes representing plaintiffs in the Denver school desegregation case from the late 1960s-early 1970s as well as a number of cases that ultimately directed hundreds of millions of dollars to serve the health needs of underserved Coloradans.

When reviewing Ed’s impressive body of work, one wonders how he mustered the time, energy and passion to balance his professional work as an attorney with his non-paying economic justice pursuits while raising a family with his wife, Cynthia, who has her own record of exemplary dedication to public service. With characteristic humility, Kahn says his good work is a product of time, circumstances and necessity.

“Going to law school during the Civil Rights era, I realized early on that low-income people aren’t going to be recognized in the legislature or the courts unless they have advocates,” he said when questioned about his commitment to community service. “These people are not going to be fully credited by the powers-that-be unless they have allies from the establishment. I’m sorry to say that, but I think that it’s true.”

As someone whose parents emigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1936, Kahn was essentially born to empathize with oppressed minorities in 1938. Drawn to political science, journalism and international affairs, Kahn started college in 1954 – one year after the Korean War ended. While attending college in Boulder, he worked as the editor of the Colorado Daily student newspaper. While serving in the Air Force for three and a half years, he was encouraged by lawyers to explore a career in law. He attended Harvard Law School from 1962 to 1965, graduating with honors. After attending a national ACLU convention in the mid-60s, he became an active member of the ACLU of Colorado’s legal panel, where he served for more than 50 years. He spent his early years in law practice working for the venerable firm Holland & Hart. He joined Kelly/Haglund/Garnsey & Kahn in 1978, and its successor’s firm, Lass Moses and Ramp, in 2010.

From a historical perspective, Ed’s professional resume is astounding and significant. From 1969 until 1974, he worked on the Denver school desegregation case, Keyes vs. Denver School District, which ultimately was decided by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1974. The justices ruled that the district was had committed acts of de jure segregation in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and mandated the desegregation of the school district.

“I wasn’t involved in the trial, but helped with the briefs and writing the appeal to the Supreme Court,” he said of Keyes vs. Denver School District. “I got the firm to take the case. We had some opposition within the firm to taking the case, because people were concerned it would lose business for the firm. But after they took the case, to their credit, I never heard an adverse word about our involvement.”

Indeed, the respect that Kahn enjoys from other lawyers is reciprocated by him.

“Helping people helps the profession, but it serves to help the profession too,” he said. “I have always had the aid of colleagues to help me do what I wanted to do. But I never felt the need to go full-time into public service. I always thought it was redemptive to work with private individuals and help them with litigation-type problems.” Along with numerous other lawyerly pursuits, Kahn co-founded the Colorado Lawyers Committee to better coordinate pro-bono efforts among Colorado’s major law firms.

In 1969, he served on the founding board of Colorado Rural Legal Services, which provided civil legal assistance to people who lack the financial resources to hire an attorney. CRLS was later merged into Colorado Legal Services.

Soon after joining Kelly/Haglund he obtained over $700,000 in legal fees – pro-bono — for the ACLU for its lawyers and Holland & Hart’s work on Ramos vs. Lamm.,  That case addressed triple-bunking prisoners in Colorado prisons, which was deemed unconstitutional and characterized as cruel and unusual punishment by the U.S. District Court for Colorado, and affirmed by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the late 90s, after having a hand in drafting legislation that established laws regarding the appropriate transfer of public assets from nonprofits health insurers and hospitals to privately owned entities, Mr. Kahn was involved in a case involving the conversion and sale of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Colorado,  a nonprofit health insurer, to the for-profit Anthem Inc. The conversion resulted in the creation of the Caring for Colorado Foundation in 1999. The foundation reported $185 million in assets and made $7.7 million in grants in 2016, similar to the level of grants made annually soon after it was formed. That work, combined with restrictions from Congress on legal aid, prompted Kahn to join other like-minded attorneys in forming Colorado Center on Law and Policy almost 20 years ago. Though he served on CCLP’s board, Ed concluded that his time would be better spent as a staff volunteer. He worked closely with CCLP’s Elisabeth Arenales, who considers Kahn a mentor.

In the early 2000s, Kahn and CCLP’s Arenales convinced leadership at the Colorado Health Foundation to dramatically increase their funding to benefit community organizations, after writing a letter to Colorado’s Attorney General saying the foundation was in violation of federal and state tax law. The foundation has awarded up to $97.7 million a year since then.

Though his work is neither glamourous nor exciting, Kahn marvels at the difference some of his efforts have made for the people of Colorado over the years.

“The financial impact is astounding, but I didn’t create the wealth of HealthONE,” he said, referencing the conversion that created The Colorado Health Foundation. “Seeing how much good is done by it and other conversion health foundations is very satisfying.”

In 2004, Kahn ramped up semi-retirement and took on a number of successful CCLP cases, including an action CCLP brought against the state when the then new Colorado Benefits Management System left thousands of Coloradans without access to health care, medications and food stamps. With Kahn taking on the role as the No. 2 litigator in the case, CCLP secured a settlement agreement requiring the state to intensify efforts and to meet benchmarks for timely and accurate processing of applications. The case helped thousands of applicants and provided millions of dollars of Medicaid and Food Stamp benefits.

More recently, Kahn and CCLP staff successfully made the case in front of Colorado’s Attorney General for preserving the full fair-market value of InnovAge, a nonprofit that converted to for-profit status. InnovAge provides community-based comprehensive care for people in need of long-term services and supports. In addition to securing $16 million additional dollars from InnovAge’s buyer, Kahn and CCLP maintained that assets from the conversion should benefit of Colorado’s frail elderly and disabled communities rather than being disbursed more widely. In her decision approving the conversion, Attorney General Cynthia Coffman concurred with CCLP and required InnovAge to fund an ombudsman to oversee the interests of InnovAge clients, and ordered that 80 percent of the company’s value remain in Colorado for the benefit of frail elderly and disabled Coloradans.

Ed remains “on call” to CCLP to consult on health care conversion cases. But, he says, “I don’t have the mindset that I’m indispensable for anything,” Kahn said.

While it seems that no one is truly “indispensable,” we are grateful for Kahn’s work for Colorado’s low-income families and for CCLP as well as other legal advocacy organizations that help people who otherwise couldn’t help themselves. That’s why we’ll be among those standing as he accepts his long-overdue Champion of Economic Justice Award on Oct. 6.

– By Bob Mook

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.