Jun 20, 2018

Jack Regenbogen previously served as Senior Attorney at Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

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Raise cash assistance for needy Colorado families

by | Jun 20, 2018

Roughly 17,000 Colorado families enrolled in Colorado’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could soon get a little more cash to help meet their basic needs. Since the last increase in cash assistance occurred almost a decade ago, Colorado has become one of the most expensive states to live and raise children.

On June 1, the Colorado State Human Services Board tentatively moved to proceed with a proposal to raise basic cash assistance for participants in Colorado Works, Colorado’s TANF program. Currently, a Coloradan with two children only receives $462 per month in assistance, an amount barely enough to cover food and hygiene products, let alone rent.

One participant of the program, Antoinette Weed of Denver, said she uses the cash assistance to defray the costs of rent, electricity, hygiene and transportation for herself and her two boys, ages 9 and 5. Currently, Antoinette is enrolled in Center for Work Education and Employment (or CWEE), a nonprofit organization that helps low-income family gain the skills and education needed to transition off public assistance and gain long-term employment.

But while Colorado Works and CWEE are giving Antoinette the skills needed to find a better job, the cash assistance she gets from Colorado Works barely keep Antoinette and her family afloat.

“I have nothing after groceries, day care, and all my other monthly expenses,” she said.

Antoinette is not alone. For the roughly 17,000 Colorado families enrolled in TANF, making ends meet while they strive to reenter the workforce is a constant struggle—and it gets tougher every year.

If given final approval by the board during its July 6 meeting, TANF recipients will receive 10 percent increase in basic cash assistance — providing an additional $46 per month for a three-person family like Antoinette’s. Those additional funds will make a big difference in helping families cover the costs of basic needs.

Antoinette expressed appreciation for the Colorado Works program, but she also acknowledged the difference that an additional $46 per month would mean to her family. “If I got an extra 10 percent in my monthly payment I could pay for a month’s worth of laundry, my phone bill, my son’s sports fee, school pictures, or a few books for my kids at the book fair.”

While the Human Services Board will be considering a final vote on July 6, the outcome of this hearing is far from certain. Many counties have expressed opposition to this increase, despite acknowledging that cash assistance needs to be increased. In particular, they have raised concerns that increasing cash assistance could jeopardize funding that some have relied on to support other programs, such as child welfare and child care assistance.

While it is understandable for counties to favor flexibility in their spending, there are ample funds to support an increase in cash assistance for our neediest families while maintaining the vitality of these other programs.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), which has championed this proposal, settled on a proposed increase of 10 percent because it is an amount counties can sustain with the existing TANF appropriation from the state. Counties are projected to have underspent the federal TANF funds they received last year by $10 million, and due to several years of underspending, county reserves have now ballooned to an amount that exceeds $50 million.

Since the proposed increase would cost roughly $8 million a year, counties would not need to use these ample reserves to fund this proposal. And while counties have been stashing away funds for later, thousands of Colorado families are struggling on a daily basis.

Colorado also has $107 million in its long-term TANF reserve. While legislative approval is needed to transfer money from this fund, CDHS has shown a willingness to use state funds to support counties that have overspent their state funding for child care and other programs that serve children. A few weeks ago, CDHS submitted an emergency budget supplemental to the General Assembly to transfer $8 million in state funds to support counties’ child welfare expenditures. This example, along with other recent increases in state funding for child care, demonstrates that we can raise cash assistance for families, while maintaining sufficient funding for child care and child welfare.

The time for an increase in cash assistance is long overdue. Everyone benefits from the healthier economy and more stable communities that expanding this resource enables. Along with our partners at the All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition,Colorado Center on Law and Policy  is proud to support this effort to better assist Coloradans on the path to self-sufficiency.

The State Human Services Board will be deciding the fate of thousands of families at a hearing in Denver on July 6, and we urge the Board’s members to lend their support to this important proposal.

-By Jack Regenbogen

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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.


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.


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.


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.