Jan 18, 2019

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STATEMENT: Stop the Shutdown

by | Jan 18, 2019

What began as political theater four weeks ago has quickly devolved into a national disaster with the health and financial security of millions of Americans — including hundreds of thousands of Coloradans – at stake.

It is time to stop playing games with the government, the American people and the U.S. economy.

Already, this shutdown is the longest in U.S. history, with no end in sight. Roughly 800,000 federal employees – and hundreds of thousands of federal contractors and support staff – have missed paychecks since the shutdown began on Dec. 22. More than 420,000 are required to work without pay and recently, the president demanded that 50,000 more people return to work without pay. Many of these workers receive low to middling wages ranging from $25,000 to $38,000 a year– an amount that’s well under the Self-Sufficiency Standard for most families in Colorado. They have no financial cushion on which to draw and the consequences of paying bills late, missing a mortgage, loan or rent payment, delaying medical expenses and taking other steps to minimize their expenses can have devastating and enduring consequences. Guaranteeing back pay when the shutdown ends will not unwind the consequences of a hit to your credit rating or paying high interest rates on a credit card bill.

The idea that the TSA agents who keep our airways safe from terrorism should “work for free” until the president and Congress come to an agreement over a wall is appalling and disregards the importance of their jobs and the critical role of government. Unfortunately, federal contractors — many of whom are low-wage workers – will never be paid for their forced leave.

The economic impact of this shutdown is already rippling through the economy as tourists stay home, federal workers and contractors stop spending money in their communities and businesses that need federal services to operate are stymied.

Apart from the devastating effect on civil servants, this unnecessary crisis has fueled uncertainty among low-wage workers and families that rely on human service programs – disproportionately hurting those with children, people with disabilities and seniors.

The lapse in funding for USDA programs could endanger nutrition programs that provide food for millions of Americans. While SNAP benefits are guaranteed through the end of February, the program faces substantial cuts if the shutdown continues. Meanwhile, the 40 million people served by the program are living under the uncertainty of not knowing how long they can keep food on the table. By the way, the Center for American Progress estimated in 2015 that nearly 11,500 jobs are lost for every $1 billion in cuts in SNAP due to the economic ripples of reduced food purchases. Funding streams for WIC (which provides nutrition for pregnant and new mothers and their children), public housing for low-income families and free school lunch programs are similarly threatened.

In Colorado, nearly 450,000 SNAP recipients and 85,000 WIC recipients are at risk from the shutdown, according to figures from the Center for American Progress. If the shutdown continues through March, over 29,000 Coloradans receiving Housing Choice Vouchers could face eviction due to unpaid rent. The Center notes that tribal communities have been hit hard because federal support services and jobs make up a significant share of the communities’ economies that sustain their health care, housing, education, child care and economic development services. Nearly 13,000 Coloradans reside on tribal lands.

Urge your Congressional representatives to reach a solution – without succumbing to the president’s demands for an unnecessary and ineffective border wall. Take time to thank Sen. Cory Gardner for breaking with his party by calling on Congress to end the shutdown and negotiate border security separately. Keep the pressure on to end to this shameful chapter of American history by posting your objections on social media, sharing this statement, even writing or calling The White House.

Clearly, this stalemate has already damaged and divided the country and faith in government. The hemorrhaging needs to stop now.

– 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.