Mar 12, 2020

Christina Yebuah previously served as Research & Policy Analyst for Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

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.

Resources for Coloradans facing poverty while preparing for the coronavirus

by | Mar 12, 2020

As Coloradans prepare for the spread of the coronavirus, sorting through the barrage of information emails can be difficult to manage. As a baseline, we encourage our readers to follow the guidelines provided by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE).

Unfortunately, for those experiencing economic hardship, some of the most conventional advice to prevent the spread of the virus can be nearly impossible to implement. Direct service providers who serve these people, including case workers, medical providers, employers and concerned community members, should make special considerations for this population in preparation for the outbreak and consider the resources available pertaining to CCLP’s Focus Areas of food, health, housing and income.

Food — Food insecurity for individuals facing poverty can be exacerbated by the virus. Workers earning low wages may struggle to afford food and nutrition as they find themselves taking unpaid sick leave, or as their businesses temporarily close.

Additionally, 33 percent of students in Colorado qualify for free lunch. As schools begin to shut down, many students will lose a consistent source of food — potentially the only meal they have for the day. Families are encouraged to apply for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Assistance, which provides a monthly benefit for households to buy food. To check eligibility, CCLP has created a SNAP  Benefit Calculator. Applications for SNAP are filled out through the PEAK application portal. Concerned citizens, faith groups and philanthropic organizations can help with food insecurity by supporting local food banks that can help fill the gap where public benefits may fail. If you are curious to understand what efforts are happening around the state in regard to hunger, check out Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger.

Health — Denver has created drive-up sites where you can receive testing free of charge. For those who do not have insurance or have insufficient insurance coverage, Safety Net Clinics provide services regardless of insurance status. Colorado Community health Network provides a tool to find the nearest community health center.

Avoiding use of emergency departments is imperative in this time. Emergency departments should be reserved for people in dire circumstances who need immediate health assistance. If you are experiencing symptoms that do not require immediate attention, please call the CO HELP line at 303-3891687 or 1-877-462-2911 and ask if you symptoms align with the criteria for testing for COVID-19. After calling the help line, please contact your local primary care providers and inquire about telemedicine options.

Lastly, having coverage is essential for testing and treatment. Gov. Jared Polis has waived cost-sharing for testing, and CCLP has called for the state to establish a Special Enrollment Period to allow sign-ups by the more than 100,000 Coloradans who lack coverage but who are eligible for subsidized coverage.

Housing — For Coloradans working hourly, self-quarantining and social distancing means losing income and consequently may have trouble paying rent. Landlords should consider deferring evictions and reevaluating their late-fee policies for those who have no choice but to delay payment. While temporary policies are being developed, such as the eviction moratorium imposed in other cities, there are resources available for those who struggle to pay rent and are at risk for eviction. For housing financial assistance programs, Colorado Apartment Association has published the Colorado Housing Financial Assistance Guide, which lists resources available by region.

In addition to those who are at risk of losing their home, those experiencing homelessness have increased risk of catching the coronavirus. As mentioned in this 9News piece, homeless shelters are finding themselves running out of hand sanitizer. Those who can are encouraged to donate hand sanitizer and other disinfectant cleaning products to their local homeless shelters. As per the recommendations of Centers for Disease Control (CDC), homeless shelters should post fliers, in multiple languages, disseminate information about the virus. The Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs has produced a series of multilingual flyers including Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian, Mandarin, Arabic, Chinese, Burmese, French, Kirundi, Arabic, Nepali, Somali and Swahili.

Income — Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is another public benefit program that assists families with children who are struggling to obtain their basic needs. Applications for TANF are also through the PEAK portal. However, employers should reconsider their paid sick time policies.

The Economic Policy Institute recently published a blog post that showed that there are large disparities across industries for paid sick days off. For example, 91 percent of people in the financial industry get paid sick days, whereas only 48 percent leisure and hospitality workers have access to this benefit. Out of those that do have paid sick days, 73 percent will not have sufficient days to take for the course of the coronavirus illness. In light of recent events, we encourage employers to take a more generous approach to their leave policies as a sick workforce could jeopardize the entire economy.

Although there are a currently few resources available to mitigate the economic consequences, the COVID-19 pandemic further illuminates gaps in the policies that prevent or ameliorate the effects of poverty. For more information on policy implications, check out this recent blog by CCLP’s Bob Mook and Bethany Pray.

– By Christina Yebuah

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.