Dec 8, 2022

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Communities Against Poverty 2022 Recap

by | Dec 8, 2022

On the 1st of December, CCLP hosted our annual Communities Against Poverty celebration, honoring the Champion of Economic Justice & Equity Awards winners for 2022. Those in attendance learned more about the incredible accomplishments and advocacy of our awardees, and heard from joint keynote speakers Dr. Frederick Wherry and Lois Lupica, J.D., on the wide-ranging and endlessly cruel impact of consumer debt on those experiencing poverty. Interim Executive Director, Bethany Pray, Esq. opened the event with gratitude towards our community. CCLP truly cannot do this work alone or without the help of community members, partners, legislators, advocates, and donors alike. With our “unique opportunity to shape policy at every step of the way,” as Bethany described, CCLP has access to power, and as many Marvel or Spider-Man fans know, “with great power comes great responsibility.” So while Coloradans still have many of their needs unmet, CCLP will do our part to help those living in poverty. 


Champions of Economic Justice and Equity Awards 

Legislator of the Year – Representative Monica Duran 

Chaer Robert, CCLP’s Legislative Director, awarded this year’s Legislator of the Year to Representative Monica Duran, who was recently elected as Colorado House Majority Leader. Unable to join the event, Chaer described Representative Duran as an incredible champion of working families and survivors of domestic violence. She has a long history of community activism, and her personal experience drives her passion to aid struggling families. She has led legislation to improve wages for home care workers, maintain sibling relationships between foster youth, protect consumers, support small businesses, and address the problem of affordable housing. During the 2021-22 legislative session, Representative Duran worked with CCLP and Colorado Children’s Campaign to reform the TANF program, in which 14,000 families qualified for the program after she identified 3 new funding sources to help pay for the program. 


Governmental Partner of the Year – Katherine Keegan 

Charles Brennan, CCLP’s Deputy Director of Research, presented Katherine Keegan with our Governmental Partner of the Year award. Katherine serves as the Director of the Office of the Future of Work (OFOW) at the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment (CDLE). The OFOW currently leads 2 statewide initiatives that focus on income training and workforce development. With a background in social work, Katherine has a deep understanding of how systems and equitable access is an important development for future work.  

In her remarks, Katherine stated she was “deeply humbled and honored” to receive this award. She believes there is invaluable work being done to understand the “impact of technological advancements and centering those that bear the brunt of the economic impacts and transitions.” The strong relationship between OFOW and CCLP continues, as digital equity has become a part of the conversation in how to make digital literacy and inclusion the forefront of peoples’ minds.  


Community Advocate of the Year – Alma Vidauri 

Ellen Giarratana, CCLP’s Managing Attorney, awarded Alma Vidauri our Community Advocate of the Year. As a mother of three, Alma cares deeply about the health and well-being of her children and has taken steps to ensure they’ve had adequate healthcare over the years. Her decision to seek health coverage created years of legal battles that ultimately landed in the Colorado Supreme Court. After the Court issued an unjust opinion, Alma courageously used her story at the capitol to fight for statutory change in HB 22-1224. Now, she uses her story and experience within the legal system to connect with Hispanic women and people in her community.  

In her remarks, Alma recounted her journey has not been easy and she doesn’t wish for anyone to go through what she went through. “Life is not what happens in it,” said Vidauri, “but what happens to us.” For her, HB22-1224 Public Benefit Theft, which passed earlier this year, ended the “unjust persecution of people receiving assistance.” She continued to say, “It’s more than a victory, it’s an answer to my prayers.” With immense gratitude toward the community, Alma stated, “advocates are a light for people going through difficult moments.”  


Community Partner Organization of the Year – Expunge Colorado 

Ellen also awarded Expunge Colorado this year’s Community Partner Organization of the Year. This incredible organization exists to provide education, training, consultation, and pro bono legal services for the record sealing of eligible criminal cases in Colorado. The organization is women/BIPOC-led and founded by three women who have organized annual record-sealing events since 2018. Expunge Colorado also recruits and trains legal professionals, works with partner organizations to provide wrap-around services, generates community education around record sealing, and participates in legislation and measures that automate record sealing and expand eligibility. We are especially grateful for their advocacy in helping craft language and answering questions around the recently passed, Clean Slate legislation. 

Two of their founders, Rosalie Flores and Melanie Rose Rodgers, provided Expunge Colorado’s remarks. Rosalie stated, “it’s so humbling and appreciated to receive this award,” and gave gratitude to CCLP for elevating Expunge Colorado’s work to get their voices raised to address their concerns on a larger scale. Melanie said, “we are honored,” and shared “what started as providing a solution to the problem has turned into this beautiful mission.” Expunge Colorado is a small, but certainly mighty nonprofit, and we are excited to see what they, along with all our awardees, will continue to do for the state of Colorado. Thank YOU! 


Keynote Speech: Consumer’s Debt Impact 

We also heard a keynote speech from Dr. Frederick Wherry, a Townsend Martin, Class of 1917 Professor of Sociology at Princeton University and Director of the Dignity and Debt Network, and Lois Lupica, J.D., the Director of the Law & Innovation Lab at the University of Denver Sturm College of Law. Together, they spoke on Consumer Debt’s Impact, today. 

Dr. Wherry began by sharing a story about how he became interested in debt and well-being. To him, it involves recognition respect. Recognition respect is a concept termed philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah, in which a person is entitled to respect in relation to a fact or feature about themselves that’s connected to their identity. He provided an example of showing this respect through having a calmer and softer voice to a person who is sensitive. There remains a human interaction that takes the physical and material constraints into account. Therefore, if someone is disabled biologically, they can very well be disabled economically. And unfortunately, people tend to react the opposite for those in debt; “if you live beyond your means there will be consequences.” As Dr. Wherry stated, “there are ways to do better toward [those in] debt,” seeing as there are patterned obstacles around one’s well-being, such as location, employment status, community, etc. 

Lupica focused specifically on Coloradans, providing public data about the state: Colorado has one of the highest rates of consumer indebtedness in the country; 16.4% of Coloradans have subprime credit scores; and there are significant discrepancies in over-indebtedness among white communities and communities of color. Noting the Self-Sufficiency Standard that CCLP recently released, she agreed that it is “beneficial in determining what families need to [earn] to make ends meet,” but it doesn’t factor in debt loads held by families. She stated that “credit can be a lifeline for families during emergencies,” but debt can also “burden poor families and communities and threaten their financial well-being.” The wealth gap is also reinforced by, “debt differences between white communities and communities of color.” Ultimately, Lupica argued, “you can’t set poverty levels unless you factor in debt.” 

From her interviews with people on the lower socioeconomic scale, Lupica explained that debt was not a part of their vocabulary. In fact, “one is only able to worry about debt if one has an income and a modicum of financial stability.” And it’s no surprise that housing was the biggest financial worry they had. Additionally, Lupica explained that many of these families had lots of involuntary debt, old debt, forgotten debts, ignored debts, or owe money to various entities but didn’t see it as debt (i.e., child support, fines and fees, criminal restitution, etc.) She also found that “their financial instability including their debt took an enormous toll on their physical and mental health.” People also reported that once financial stability is achieved, debt comes back to haunt you. Lupica stated that every person they spoke to expressed shame for not being able to pay off their debts. 

Dr. Wherry came back to discuss shame further explaining that shame is deliberately brought on those in debt, as debt collectors use shame tactics to get people to pay their bills. Shame is woven through entire families, both immediate and extended, as it is built into the system to get someone to pay. He stated debt collection is a profitable business and these debt collectors “are unleashing a set of practices that at best might be described as cruel.” Not only do they hurt those in debt, but the legal system also seemingly upholds and enforces these unfair practices. 

For access to the artwork Dr. Wherry and Lupica provided, please check out The Debt Collectors Series.

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