Mar 21, 2022

Charles serves as CCLP's Income and Housing Policy Director using data and research to support our efforts to stand with diverse communities across Colorado in the fight against poverty. Staff page ›

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.

Overlooked and Undercounted shows 1 in 4 Colorado households struggling to get by

by | Mar 21, 2022

Last week Colorado Center on Law and Policy released the latest edition of our report Overlooked and Undercounted: Coloradans Struggling to Make Ends Meet in 2019. Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the new report, authored by Annie Kucklick of the University of Washington’s Center for Women’s Welfare, estimates that 7.4 percent of Colorado’s working age households[1] were below the official poverty measure in 2019.

However, there is widespread agreement among policy makers and academics that the federal poverty measure is no longer an accurate accounting of the true income families in Colorado require in order to meet their basic needs. As we discuss in this blog post and our recently released report, over 280,000 households in Colorado earn too much to be in poverty by the federal government’s criteria — and yet do not earn enough to cover their households necessary expenses.

The Self-Sufficiency Standard, developed by Dr. Diana Pearce, offers an alternative approach to estimating the extent of economic insecurity in Colorado. Unlike the official poverty measure,[2] the Self-Sufficiency Standard measures economic need by adding up the estimated monthly costs facing over 700 different family types in each of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Items included in the Self-Sufficiency Standard’s household budget include: housing, child care, food, transportation, health care, miscellaneous costs, and taxes (including tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit if applicable).[3]

Using this expanded measure of economic insecurity, we estimate that 24.9 percent of working families in Colorado did not earn enough income in 2019 to cover their basic needs. This includes roughly 286,205 households who earned more than the official poverty measure but still did not have enough income to meet their household’s necessary monthly expenses.

Because eligibility for most federal government safety net programs is based on a household’s income relative to the poverty threshold (for example most adults are eligible for Colorado’s Medicaid program if their income is at or below 138 percent of the federal poverty limit), many of the households below the Standard likely earn too much income to qualify for public assistance programs yet would benefit from such assistance.

This and other findings related to Coloradans’ economic security can be found in the Colorado Center on Law and Policy’s (CCLP’s) recent report, Overlooked and Undercounted: Coloradans Struggling to Make Ends Meet in 2019.

This report is the first of two that CCLP will release in 2022 looking at the income needs of Colorado’s households. The second report, The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2021 will be released later this year. Unlike Overlooked and Undercounted, the comprehensive Self-Sufficiency Standard report will include estimates of the income needed by households to meet their basic needs using data from 2021; in other words, using data that reflects changes in the cost of living (though not all) that have occurred since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Due to data collection issues during the COVID-19 pandemic,[4] we were unable to use U.S. Census Bureau data from 2020 in our estimates of who was above and below the Self-Sufficiency Standard in Colorado. As a result, our estimates use 2019 data and reflect the state of our economy prior to the pandemic. However, as we look to return to “normal” following the disruptions of the past two years, we believe this report demonstrates why returning to normal is not enough.

Policy makers and working Coloradans must not accept that one in four households — 88.7% of whom included at least one employed adult — did not earn enough to meet Colorado’s high cost of living. We can, and must, do better to ensure all Coloradans can enjoy economic security.

Note: As we await the upcoming publication of the Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado 2021, CCLP will release a series of blogs highlighting findings from Overlooked and Undercounted that are most relevant to our work in our four focus areas (food, health, housing, and income) as well as our work to advance racial, gender, and class equity in Colorado. Stay tuned!

[1] Households with at least one member who is between 18 and 64 years old and has no work-limiting disability (as defined by the U.S. Census Bureau).

[2] The official poverty measure was developed in the 1960s. At its basics, the measure assumes that a household needs to earn income equivalent to three times the 1960s cost of a basic food diet. It is adjusted by family size but is the same for all states in the contiguous United States. The poverty measure for different family sizes is only updated to adjust for inflation. While offering a consistent yardstick for measuring poverty nearly six decades, even the U.S. Census Bureau acknowledges that the official poverty measure is no longer an accurate measure of poverty.

[3] Despite being more comprehensive than the official poverty measure, the Self-Sufficiency Standard does not capture all the expenses facing households. Costs for items such as internet (unless included in rent), debt payments, and retirement savings are not included in the Self-Sufficiency Standard’s income-need estimates. However, these and other costs facing low-income households are likely to affect a household’s ability to meet their income needs beyond what we’ve captured in the Self-Sufficiency Standard.

[4] See this working paper for more on the U.S. Census Bureau’s challenges collecting survey data during the COVID-19 pandemic https://www.census.gov/library/working-papers/2021/acs/2021_Rothbaum_01.html.

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.