Mar 29, 2022

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 ›

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

What you need to know about TANF and HB22-1259

by | Mar 29, 2022

A mom flees domestic violence with her child.

A neighbor has a stroke and her daughter and grandchild move back to Colorado to care for her.

A clerk at the local store is fired after her child is hospitalized for complications of an asthma attack once too often.

Your local restaurant closed its doors. For your favorite waitress, a mom, it was it the only potential employer in walking distance where she could find a job without a high school diploma or car.

In dire circumstances, many families seek help from family or friends. But others do not have family nearby and their friends may be living paycheck to paycheck themselves.

What role does, or should, government play to help such families with children?

Colorado receives about $140 million per year in Temporary Assistance to Needy Families funds from the federal government. The amount of that TANF block grant has not once been increased to reflect inflation, nor Colorado’s massive population growth, since TANF was created by Congress way back in 1996. That money must be matched at about 20% in local or state funds — referred to as “maintenance of effort.”

Currently, in Colorado, that match comes from the counties; historically, this state has not invested money in this program. It is time for that to change, given how targeted and effective this program is in reaching children most in need.

What help can families in economic crisis receive through the TANF Program? Much is discretionary, depending on the county and the caseworker.

  1. If a family of parent and one child has less than $331 in income per month, that family may be eligible for a monthly grant of up to $400, plus SNAP, to help meet basic needs. For a parent of two children, income must be under $421 per month to receive up to $508 per month. (Families with income above these limits may be eligible for one time aid or non-cash services.)
  2. The family will likely be assigned a case manager to help them develop a plan to develop economic stability. That might include job readiness training, digital literacy training, or other short- term skills training.
  3. The family will likely receive help obtaining SNAP, Medicaid, Child Care, add other support services for employment. They might also get connected to counseling if they need it.
  4. In cases where the parent or child has significant disabilities which make employment unlikely, they may receive help applying for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for themselves or a child, or for Social Security Disability if they qualify.

In exchange for the monthly grant, the parent must participate in work-related activities for 30 hours per week, or 20 hours per week if the child is under six. The 12,000 – 14,000 Colorado families receiving the monthly grant are in the Colorado Works Program.

What are the limitations of the current TANF program?

Many of the current limitations are baked into the 1996 federal law:

  • As referenced before, federal funding for TANF is flat, meaning this support for Colorado families has lost more than 40% of its value since 1996.
  • The federal “work participation rate” requirement redirects limited staff time into compliance tracking — ensuring that program beneficiaries spend their required 30 hours each week on “Countable” and “Allowable activities” — activities that do not even necessarily result in employment opportunities.
  • Perhaps most shockingly, the “caseload reduction credit” built into the federal law actually rewards government for not serving people, incentivizing states to discourage use of the program and sanction people off the program. Shrinking caseloads across the nation do not reflect beneficiaries leaving for stable employment, but rather, people leaving, or being sanctioned off of, a program that does not work for them.

Another basic limitation is the lack of a smooth off-ramp from welfare to work. While Colorado does not count two-thirds of new employment income against eligibility when a participant gets a job, even a 30 hour per week minimum wage job will throw most participants into ineligibility, resulting in loss of TANF and other supports. A parent with only one child would lose TANF eligibility after accepting merely a 20 hour per week job paying minimum wage.

What can we do to elevate TANF’s impact in Colorado?

In conjunction with Colorado Children’s Coalition, the TANF Coalition and dozens of other organizations, CCLP is working on HB22-1259: Concerning the Colorado Works Program.

Core provisions of this bill would:

  1. Raise the TANF month grant, currently equal to just 28% of the federal poverty level, far below the census standard for “extreme poverty”, or 50% of FPL. For a family with two children, this 28% of FPL currently works out to a maximum of only $508 per month.
  2. Adjust the earned income disregard and/or the outrageously low eligibility standard of need so that families do not lose their TANF grant and other support within weeks of obtaining employment.
  3. Minimize first sanctions against a family. Currently, missing one appointment could result in loss of 25% of the meager TANF grant, throwing a family already facing great difficulties into crisis.
  4. Provide outreach on the program, so that struggling families know about its availability. And communicate clearly to participants what the program can offer them. The bill would also build in program feedback and recommendations from those participating or leaving the program.

Some of Colorado’s most vulnerable families receive TANF. At its best, TANF can help stabilize families and help them set a course for a more economically promising future. But to make the positive impact on Colorado families and our state economy, we must do more. HB22-1259 deserves our support.

Recent articles

CCLP testifies in support of Clean Slate updates

Bethany Pray, CCLP’s Chief Legal and Policy Officer, provided testimony in support of House Bill 24-1133, Criminal Record Sealing & Expungement Changes. CCLP is in support of HB24-1133, as it is one of our priority bills.

CCLP testifies in support of TANF grant rule change

CCLP's Emeritus Advisor, Chaer Robert, provided written testimony in support of the CDHS rule on the COLA increase for TANF recipients. If the rule is adopted, the cost of living increase would go into effect on July 1, 2024.

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.