Jul 11, 2018

An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer has dedicated her career to helping people meet their basic needs and expanding economic opportunity. She serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

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Strong coalition elevates cash assistance for needy families

by | Jul 11, 2018

After five hours of deliberation and often emotional testimony, Colorado’s Human Services Board voted 6-2 to increase the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) maximum monthly grant by 10 percent on Friday, July 6.

The increase — the first in nearly a decade — is a huge win for low-income families participating in Colorado Works, the state’s TANF program. This increase will become effective on Sept. 1, 2018.

This achievement was only possible because of a collective effort involving 50 endorsing organizations and leadership within the All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition, including CCLP, the Center for Work, Education and Employment (CWEE) and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless.

During the hearing, a dozen parents from CWEE and their children shared their appreciation for TANF, while revealing the difficult financial struggles they face daily.

One mom held her baby while discussing the cost of laundry, when the child threw up on her, as if on cue. Another mom talked about trying to decide whether to use her last remaining dollars to buy diapers or tampons. Diapers won out since she is required to provide them for her child-care provider. Another mom talked about being a few dollars short on rent, which ballooned after the addition of late fees.

The current grant provides less than 27 percent of the federal poverty level to a family’s income, or $462 per month for a parent with two children. Many TANF recipients rely on the grant as their sole source of income.

Advocacy groups, social workers, faith-based leaders, and other partners provided testimony, letters of support, petitions and sign-on letters. From the Bright Future Foundation of Eagle County to Colorado Springs Food Rescue, organizational representatives lent their names and voices to support the state’s poorest families.

The coalition gathered the names of more than 140 clergy from various denominations in support of the proposal. The Colorado Children’s Campaign discussed the lasting impact of the toxic stress resulting from living in extreme poverty, and the gains in children’s health, education and future earnings that even small amount of additional income can make at such low income levels.

The Colorado Department of Human Services developed the proposal, based on budget information and caseload data. The state receives a federal TANF block group of $136 million, which is allocated to the counties.

Although the federal grant to the state has been flat since TANF was established in 1996 as part of “welfare reform,” it has lost almost 40 percent of its purchasing power since then due to the rising cost of living. Nonetheless, counties collectively fail to spend about $10 million of their TANF allocation per year. Counties retain those funds in their TANF Reserves, which have grown to more than $50 million and are approaching the maximum allowed by state law. The projected cost to counties of increasing the grant is $8 million a year.

Despite the clear and demonstrated need to raise basic cash assistance, representatives of many counties testified in strong opposition to the proposal, amid concerns that their particular county could end up spending more than their yearly allotment. Reggie Bicha, Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Human Services, countered that this could be addressed by the county-led Works Allocation Committee, which develops a distribution formula to determine the share of the TANF block grant each county receives.

Even though families enrolled in both TANF and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will  see some reduction in their SNAP allotment due to the increase in their TANF grant, and the roughly one in four TANF recipients who also receive subsidized housing will pay a portion of that increase in the form of a rent increase, the proposal will provide significant relief for families on TANF trying to meet their basic needs. All told, it still accounts for a 4 percent increase in assistance for those who benefit from all three programs.

We appreciate the time, work and commitment of those who testified or contributed in some way to the effort.

We would also like to thank all board members for their in-depth, respectful, thoughtful insights — especially those who asked to hear from the families receiving TANF.

Finally, we’d like extend special gratitude to those parents and some of their children who shared their experiences and then waited for five hours to see their efforts pay off.

– By Chaer Robert

– Photo credit: CWEE

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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.