An expert in policy advocacy and coalition building, Chaer leads CCLP’s work to help people meet their basic needs and expand economic opportunity. She also coordinates the Skills2Compete Colorado Coaliton and serves on the executive committee of the All Families Deserve a Chance (AFDC) coalition. Staff page ›

Jan 10, 2019

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2019 Legislative Preview: Economic Security

by | Jan 10, 2019

This year, CCLP’s Family Economic Security Program will lead a robust legislative agenda, support our partner organizations’ legislative proposals and inform the legislators on unanticipated bills that affect struggling families.

Securing Stable, Safe, Affordable Housing
Stable, affordable housing is a cornerstone of financial and emotional security and good health.

Roughly one in two Colorado renters pay more than 30 percent of their income in rent, and an alarming 75 percent of extremely low-income renters pay more than half their income in rent. For every 100 low-income renters, there are only 27 units available that rent for less than 30 percent of their income. Some parts of the state that are losing population face deterioration of their aging housing stock and a loss of more affordable homes. Throughout the session, CCLP will work with its organizational partners on a slate of housing affordability and tenant-rights legislation.

Eviction Notice Period
Forced moves have a domino effect on tenants, leading to job loss, poverty and even homelessness. Housing instability for tenants with children often destabilizes and disrupts a family’s relationships and a child’s educational experience. Forced moves can be particularly burdensome for older Coloradans and individuals with disabilities. Perhaps worst of all, having an eviction on one’s record can make it nearly impossible to secure housing in the future.

Before filing an eviction action in court, a landlord must give the tenant written notice of the lease violation that has taken place, which may include non-payment of rent, and the landlord’s intent to evict the tenant if the issue is not remedied. This “three-day notice” states that the tenant must cure the lease violation or vacate the property within three days. If the tenant can remedy the lease violation within this period, they can avoid eviction. If the tenant fails to do so, the landlord may file an eviction action. Three days is often not sufficient time to address a lease violation. Tenants may need more time to find a new home for a dog, for example, or to apply for an emergency rental assistance.

In an effort to ensure fewer Coloradans are evicted under circumstances in which they could remedy the situation if they had more time, CCLP is promoting a bill with Colorado Coalition for the Homeless to extend the notification period before a landlord can file for an eviction from three to 14 days. Twenty-nine other states require more notice than Colorado in the case of unpaid rent. If passed, more renters would be able to stay in their homes, and others would be able to avoid having an eviction on their rental record.

Eviction Legal Defense
According to the Legal Services Corp., low-income Americans in 2017 received little or no legal help with 86 percent of their civil legal problems. Low-income tenants who face eviction typically don’t receive legal assistance. For tenants who represent themselves in court, navigating the complex legal system of landlord-tenant laws can prove to be an impossible task.

There were nearly 45,000 evictions filed in Colorado in 2017. At least half of those seeking assistance from Colorado Legal Services were turned away because of limited staff resources. According to a 2017 study by CCLP and Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, fewer than 1 percent of tenants in Denver County were represented by an attorney during an eviction, while nearly 90 percent of landlords were represented. However, the few tenants who got assistance were significantly more likely to remain in their homes.

To rectify the situation, CCLP is working to provide $900,000 in funding for legal resources for low-income Coloradans who are facing an eviction. These funds would support a grant program for nonprofit legal assistance organizations administered by the State Court Administrator’s Office.

Employment, Income and Financial Security
Over 14 percent of prime working-age Coloradans (ages 24-54 years old) are not working, even as Colorado’s economic development is constrained in some areas by a lack of workers. Many of these people want to work, but face barriers to employment such as a lack of recent work history, low literacy and numeracy skills, a criminal record, physical disabilities, mental health issues, care-giving responsibilities, etc.

CCLP, in conjunction with the Colorado Skills2Compete Coalition, conducted a needs assessment of community and publicly funded employment service organizations that encompassed 63 of Colorado’s 64 counties to assess the needs of low-income job-seekers. We developed legislation after receiving extensive input from workforce center staff and community-based organizations that help people with challenges to employment get skills training and obtain and retain employment.

Emergency Support Service Fund for Those Seeking Training and Employment
The availability of support services – such as emergency child care, transportation, or obtaining funds for tools or licensing fees—could make a big difference between starting a new job and another financial setback that keeps prospective workers from earning an income.

Last session, we developed legislation that would create a support services fund that public agencies and community-based employment organizations can draw from to serve participants living below the poverty line. The bill would appropriate General Funds (approximately $1 million per year) to support these needs. It would establish a reimbursement mechanism for eligible organizations to provide employment-related support services immediately without having to go through a lengthy application process.. Participant benefits would be capped at $400 per person per year. While not providing all the support services a person might need, the fund would meet the small-dollar needs that might otherwise derail a person’s employment pursuits. Though the bill did not pass last year, CCLP was encouraged by the support it received and will work with our partners to build support for similar legislation this year.

“Clean Slate” legislation
Society expects people to work, pay restitution and support their families after they’ve been incarcerated. Unfortunately, many Coloradans with criminal records experience unemployment, food insecurity and housing instability — fueling recidivism and poverty for themselves and their families.

To rectify the problem, CCLP developed “clean-slate” legislation that provides for automatically sealing certain criminal records so that they are not available to the public, but could still be accessed by law enforcement agencies, family courts and victims of crime. Our clean-slate proposal will only apply to certain nonviolent offenses that are already eligible for sealing under Colorado law. The proposal would eliminate costly and burdensome steps including court petitions and filing fees for individuals who have remained free of misdemeanor and felony convictions for a specified period of time. By removing barriers to housing and employment, this bill will give people a chance to move on with their lives and support their families.

Our previous proposal on criminal records, titled “Chance to Compete,” also has returned this year. The bill prohibits employers from asking about someone’s criminal history on an initial job application. CCLP supports this proposal to “ban the box” that keeps too many Coloradans from securing employment.

Wage Garnishment
Wage garnishment is a severe form of debt collection that can hamper low-income individuals’ ability to meet basic needs and force them into bankruptcy. Colorado ranks in the bottom half nationally in protecting individuals’ paychecks from excessive garnishment, and Colorado’s garnishment law does not provide adequate time and notice for affected individuals to plan for a drastic reduction in their income.

CCLP’s proposed bill would require clearer, and more timely notice of a garnishment so individuals can understand their rights and how garnishment will affect their paycheck. The proposal also would reduce the amount of earnings that can be garnished so people are better able to continue paying their rent and other basic expenses. Premiums paid for individual or family health care coverage would be excluded from garnishment.

Low-Income Child Care Expenses Tax Credit
Without child care, most parents of young children cannot work. Low-wage workers have difficulty affording the child care needed to take a job and stay in the workforce.  Employment is critical to reducing poverty, but child care is critical to employment.

Colorado currently provides a permanent income tax credit for child care expenses to families with an income of $60,000 and less but more than $25,000. Because that tax credit is based on a percentage of their federal tax credit– and working parents with very low incomes earn too little to pay federal income taxes — families earning under $25,000 generally do not qualify for the permanent credit. They do qualify for the low-income child care tax credit, but that credit will expire after tax year 2020. CCLP created a bill to make this tax credit permanent.

CCLP championed the bill that disconnected the state tax credit from federal credit for those earning under $25,000 a year who do not qualify for the permanent credit. The maximum amount of this credit is one-fourth of the child care expenses for working families up to $500 per year for a family with one child and $1,000 per year for a family with two or more children. The average credit paid by the state has been a little over $150 per family.

To qualify for the credit, families must be working and earning less than $25,000 a year, and paying for child care. If this law sunsets, working parents with the lowest income will not receive any tax benefits for the money they pay for child care, while those earning enough to have a federal income tax liability (but below $60,000 a year) would receive partial reimbursement of child care costs through permanent child care tax credits. In fact, in 2018, the legislature increased the Colorado Child Care Tax Credit for those earning up to $60,000 per year without a sunset. Both of these critical tax credits should be permanent.

Working Families Tax Credit
In a multi-year effort focused on a possible 2020 ballot initiative, CCLP, in conjunction with Colorado People’s Alliance and United for a New Economy and others, has been developing a proposal for a Working Families Tax Credit—to expand and modernize our Colorado State Earned Income Tax Credit. TABOR prohibits a progressive income tax. By requiring a single rate or “flat tax,” it leaves those Coloradans with the lowest incomes carrying the heaviest total state tax burden as a percentage of income. The Working Families Tax Credit would rebalance our state income tax code by removing the constitutional requirement for a flat-rate income tax, then establish a broad tax credit covering a majority of tax filers, paid for with a higher rate on high-income tax filers.

Basic Needs
Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP)
Beyond our work on housing, much of our work on public assistance to meet basic needs comes in the form of rule changes. Rules describe the particulars of how a law is implemented and are subject to approval by an agency board, not by the legislature. CCLP’s staff is deeply involved in the state Department of Human Services’ comprehensive effort to update SNAP rules and assure they align with federal laws and rules. In particular, CCLP is especially focused on reforming policies regarding statutes of limitation on collecting past SNAP overpayments. Once the rule package is drafted, it will be subject to review and approval by the State Board of Human Services.

Supporting our Partners
In addition to the bills CCLP will be leading, we expect to support legislation being developed by organizations in the Tenants’ Right Roundtable including the Senior Lobby’s Property Tax, Rent, Heat Rebate bill, and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless’ prohibition of housing discrimination based on source of income. We plan to support efforts from Enterprise and 9to5 to strengthen the Warranty of Habitability, and to cap rental application fees. CCLP is an active participant in roundtables on funding affordable housing, including providing technical expertise in the potential of using unclaimed property funds.

We plan to support other child-related tax credit bills, including Colorado Fiscal Institute’s Child Tax Credit and Colorado Children’s Campaign’s Income Tax Credit for Certain Early Childhood Educators. CFI’s proposal to restructure allowed investment in 529 College Savings Account to seed Child Savings Accounts for every Colorado child provides an example of consideration of economic equity in state investments. The development of Bell Policy Center’s Secure Retirement Savings Accounts and 9to5’s Paid FAMLI leave are also critical to overall family economic security.

— By Chaer Robert

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