May 18, 2020

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NEWS RELEASE: Lawmakers Must Consider Budgetary Solutions for Health Emergency

by | May 18, 2020

The economic fallout from the COVID-19 public health crisis also has created the largest budgetary shortfall in Colorado history, forcing state legislators to make some devastating decisions – including potentially cutting $3.3 billion in state funding for education, health care and other critical public services. Such cuts would damage the state’s long-term economic recovery during a time when the crisis has put hundreds of thousands of Coloradans out of work, isolated our elders, suspended in-person education for our kids and overwhelmed our health care system in a time when its needed most.

Addressing such urgent and growing concerns, a diverse coalition of 135 organizations is encouraging state legislators and Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to apply a three-pronged approach to mitigate some of the state’s most pressing public health, economic and budgeting woes. Led by Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) and Colorado Fiscal Institute (CFI), the coalition is urging members of the Joint Budget Committee to consider passing temporary emergency tax measures under the Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR) and take other measures to reduce the scale of cuts and forge a more equitable path forward for children, Colorado’s rural areas, elder citizens, people with disabilities and communities of color particularly hurt by the ongoing crisis.

The coalition delivered a joint letter to members of Colorado’s General Assembly advocating for a three-pronged approach that includes:

  1. The appropriate use of state budget reserves;
  2. The passage of a temporary state tax that will raise substantial revenue and alleviate the disproportionate tax burden our low-income families are carrying; and
  3. Federal aid that Colorado can use to fill budget gaps.

The action comes as the Joint Budget Committee weighs its option for the state’s budget and as the legislature prepares to reconvene on May 26.

“This crisis has been especially hard for Coloradans who were already facing economic hardship before the crisis hit,” said Tiffani Lennon, J.D., LL.M, Executive Director of CCLP, a nonprofit that researches, develops and advocates for policies that remove barriers for Coloradans facing poverty. “Now is not the time to be cutting essential services, particularly when the TABOR amendment gives us the flexibility to generate additional revenue under emergencies. And this ongoing and continuing crisis certainly classifies as an emergency.”

To advance the proposal, lawmakers need to declare a health emergency through a legislative joint resolution with a two-thirds vote; re-define the non-cash part of the emergency reserve so that state-owned buildings don’t have to be sold and pass a temporary tax measure in both the House and the Senate with a two-thirds majority. When combined with emergency reserves and federal aid, the approach would likely mitigate the severe budgetary hemorrhaging that would otherwise follow this year and in years to come, while better positioning Colorado for economic recovery.

“Simply put, important institutions that serve Coloradans and create jobs – such as rural hospitals health clinics, mental health clinics, schools and universities – are facing significant reductions in services and massive lay-offs,” said Linda Reiner, President and CEO of the Caring for Colorado Foundation, one of 135 organizations encouraging legislators to consider the approach.  “We need to come together as Coloradans to save these vital community organizations to preserve the health and well-being of our families, friends, and neighbors. Without this stop gap measure we will be forced to endure more job loss, hunger, housing insecurity, problems accessing health care and family stress.”

The coalition is warning against an emergency sales tax because it is unlikely to raise enough revenue due to the ongoing drop in consumer spending. Furthermore, a regressive sales tax would hurt the very Coloradans who are already shouldering the brunt from this crisis and struggling to make ends meet.

Instead, the coalition is recommending temporarily restructuring personal income brackets by slightly lowering the income tax rate for 95 percent of Coloradans, while increasing rates for annual incomes over $250,000. Because an emergency tax would likely only be in effect from June through November, and because some income has been lost due to the pandemic, it is projected that $600 million could be raised in 2020 through the proposal.

“This proposal gives relief to Coloradans who need it most while giving those with the most resources a short-term opportunity to pay it forward for the good of the state,” said Carol Hedges, Executive Director of CFI, a nonprofit that provides analyses of fiscal and economic issues facing Colorado. “Health care and education are important services we all need more than ever, and those services are provided by Coloradans. When hospitals and colleges close, when school districts need to lay off teachers and support staff, it means fewer jobs and less money flowing in communities that can’t afford more unemployment. This proposal will help local economies so we can all recover and none of our communities are left behind.

Colorado citizens concerned about the ramifications of potential budget cuts who support the coalition’s three-pronged approach can learn more through CCLP and CFI’s websites, contact members of Colorado’s Joint Budget Committee and reach out to their local representatives in the Colorado Legislature.

For media inquiries about the campaign, contact Elliot Goldbaum, CFI’s Director of Strategic Communications at goldbaum@coloradofiscal.org or Bob Mook, CCLP’s Communications Director at bmook@copolicy.org. 

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.

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.