Understanding the economic challenges Coloradans face and identifying solutions

While Colorado is known for a robust and growing economy, the harsh reality of many Coloradans experiencing poverty isn’t always reflected in headlines. Research and policy analysis shed a light on issues that affect the health, well-being and economic security of Coloradans.

How we conduct this work

CCLP works in partnership with the advocacy community, research community, and government agencies to provide the data and analysis that support meaningful policy change.

For example, in 2017 CCLP partnered with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless in reviewing eviction cases in Denver County Court. The findings of the report, entitled Facing Eviction Alone, suggested that most evictions could be avoided if tenants were represented by an attorney. The report received wide press coverage and prompted the city of Denver to establish its first-ever eviction defense fund. The study may have been the impetus for the approval of Senate Bill 180, which CCLP developed in the 2019 legislative session. The bill established a $750,000 legal defense fund to help Coloradans facing eviction.

In late 2019, after alarms were raised by community partners who saw increased numbers of uninsured patients, we published an analysis examining data on federal and state factors contributing to an 8 percent decline in Medicaid and CHP+ enrollment. Our report triggered a discussion among officials and stakeholders that will hopefully result in adjustments to state policy, keep more eligible Coloradans enrolled in Medicaid, and protect the state from punitive federal action.

We are a trusted resource for media coverage on how the Colorado economy is performing for people across the income spectrum. CCLP’s research and analysis portfolio includes  The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado, a comprehensive measure of how much income families of various sizes and compositions need to make ends meet without public or private assistance. CCLP also releases the State of Working Colorado, a compendium of data that shows how Colorado’s economy is performing for workers across the income spectrum, among numerous reports and issue briefs.

Along with traditional reports and analysis, we are an innovator in producing online reports. CCLP partnered with Hunger Free Colorado to develop the Human Services Gap Map, an online report that provides a window into how effectively Colorado is delivering the basic building blocks needed for lifelong health and well-being by presenting county-by-county comparisons of enrollment, allocations and costs for human service programs. Through a grant from The Colorado Trust’s Health Equity Cohort, we produced Vital Signs, an examination of the influence of race, place and income on Colorado’s health.

Much of our research is made possible through a generous donation from Donald W. and Lynn K. Burnes, whose gift created The Burnes Institute for Poverty Research at CCLP. This partnership supports CCLP’s current research and ensures that the organizations legislative and legal advocacy work is evidence-based, while advancing a racial-equity and anti-poverty agenda.


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.