The coronavirus outbreak is an existential threat to the health and financial security of all Americans, but for people who were facing poverty before the pandemic proliferated, the threat is even more urgent.
That’s why Colorado Center on Law and Policy and our advocacy partners are urging officials on a statewide and federal government level to take immediate action to ensure that COVID-19 does not plunge those already facing health inequities and social and economic barriers further into the depths of poverty and hopelessness.
Earlier this week, the Colorado Health Policy Coalition — consisting of Colorado-based health care providers, advocates, nonprofits and community organizations — sent letters to Colorado’s Congressional delegation, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis, Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera and all members of the Colorado General Assembly. The Coalition is co-chaired by CCLP’s Allison Neswood. Fortunately, many of these and other recommended interventions have already been approved by officials. More will hopefully be implemented shortly after this blog is posted.
CCLP’s Public Benefits Attorney, Sara Lipowitz, joined partners with Hunger Free Colorado, Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and the Colorado Blueprint to End Hunger in sending Gov. Polis several recommendations to strengthen safety net programs that provide food, shelter and security during this crisis.
CCLP’s Jack Regenbogen joined more than two dozen organizational partners in urging Colorado Gov. Jared Polis to declare a 90-day moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. Regenbogen also recently weighed in on Denver Mayor Michael Hancock’s moratorium on eviction enforcement.
Other CCLP directors are also working deligently with partners and state legislators on policies to secure the health and well-being of families facing devastation.
Here are just some of the actions that we are recommending in our Focus Areas of Food, Health, Housing and Income:
Food – We joined the Colorado Health Policy Coalition in asking Colorado’s Congressional Delegation to support an appropriation of $500 million to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women Infants and Children to provide nutritious food for expectant women or mothers with young children who lose their jobs or are laid off due to the ongoing emergency. The coalition has also requested $400 million to the Emergency Food Assistance Program to help local food banks meet increased demand during the emergency. They are also asking the government to suspend work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (or SNAP) since many people will likely be unemployed in the weeks and months to come.
Among the recommendations to the governor, we joined our partners in recommending fully staffed phone services for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs (or SNAP) in every county during business hours; implementing a statewide intake hotline for all benefits programs; and encouraging SNAP applicants to file online and over the telephone, temporarily waiving in-person signatures and other requirements.
Health – With an estimated 425,200 Coloradans currently without any health coverage, the delegation asked Colorado’s Congressional delegation to pass legislation that lets states extend Medicaid eligibility to uninsured people for the purposes of COVID-19 diagnostic testing and treatment.
On a statewide level, the Coalition asked the General Assembly to promote enrollment of Medicaid eligible individuals in communications about COVID-19 and through a combination of a broad mass-media outreach campaign and targeted local efforts in collaboration with Coalition members. The coalition also recommends expanding the Colorado Indigent Care Program to the fullest extent possible under applicable federal guideline to ensure that more Coloradans will have access to emergency COVID-19 testing, treatment and care.
The coalition also urges the administration to halt pending dis-enrollments in Medicaid and CHP+ as much as possible and advocate with federal partners to expedite access to coverage and health services for affected individuals. Currently, an estimated 30,000 enrollees are slated to lose their eligibility at the end of the month – including some in high-risk categories or nursing home settings.
Housing – With roughly 30,000 especially vulnerable people experiencing homelessness in Colorado, we’ve joined our partners in asking the governor to increase the number of motel vouchers offered as an alternative to community shelters for those displaying signs of illness.
Recently, CCLP’s Jack Regenbogen joined our partners in urging Gov. Polis to use his authority to take broader action to protect individuals facing eviction during this time of crisis. Additionally, financial assistance will be needed to prevent a massive flood of evictions and foreclosures once the courts resume operations.
Income – Noting that the Coronavirus Response Act recently approved by the House of Representatives only covers about 20 percent of the U.S. population, the Colorado Health Policy Coalition urged the Colorado Delegation to support emergency paid leave provisions to protect all workers. Coalition partners also expressed disappointment that employers with 500 employees or more were exempted from providing paid leave and that Congress was not able to develop solutions to help small employers to ensure their workers don’t go without an income. They recommended provisions in the final relief package that would require all employers to allow employees to accrue seven days of paid sick leave and to make an additional 14 days available in the event of a public health emergency – including the current coronavirus.
The Coalition also asked Gov. Polis to waive in-person case management and recertification requirements for Coloradans who receive Basic Cash Assistance from Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a support program for families typically earning less than $6,000 a year. They’ve also recommended encouraging applicants to file online or through the telephone and granting BCA benefits beyond 60 months – waiving the state requirement that recipients engage in a meaningful effort to find work since the coronavirus may well hamper such efforts in the short term.
Furthermore, the Coalition asked to support unemployment insurance provisions that provide $1 billion in 2020 for emergency grants for states to process unemployment benefits, ensure that displaced workers can apply for benefits online or by the phone.
There’s been talk that the Administration will send checks of $1,000 or more to every American (essentially, a temporary universal basic income). But money alone will not stabilize the situation or ensure anyone’s health and financial security. Quick and decisive action is needed on several fronts. As anyone who has followed this crisis knows, developments are moving quickly. While many of these interventions are already law, we hope that others will become reality as well.
We’ll continue to keep you posted through our Facebook and Twitter feeds. Also visit our website to sign up for CCLP emails for the latest on how you can help minimize the effects of the coronavirus outbreak for Coloradans experiencing poverty.