Apr 5, 2018

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Emergency funds would help Coloradans get back to work

by | Apr 5, 2018

At first glance, Colorado’s economy looks healthy and vibrant. Business owners are optimistic, unemployment remains low and key sectors of our economy are posting strong hiring numbers.

Research from CCLP paints a less rosy picture. Six years into the economic recovery, underemployment remains high, median household income varies significantly by county and nearly one in five working-age Coloradans are still not working. Moreover, economists in Colorado fear there won’t be enough qualified workers to satisfy job growth, creating a labor shortage that will have negative consequences for the state’s economy.

To address these issues, and to ensure that every Coloradan has access to the skills training and education they need to become financially self-sufficient, CCLP coordinates the Skills2Compete Colorado Coalition.

Since 2016, Skills2Compete has conducted research and outreach across 63 of Colorado’s 64 counties to determine if there are enough resources to serve Colorado’s low-income jobseekers. After conducting dozens of interviews and outside research, our attention focused on the efficacy and availability of support services— such as emergency child care, or transportation assistance – to help Coloradans with employment challenges pursue skills-training or employment opportunities.

Nearly 100 organizations engaged in skills training and employment services, businesses and other key stakeholders — were interviewed throughout this process. With few exceptions, representatives from these entities affirmed that support services are critical to help those with employment barriers successfully pursue jobs or training opportunities and stay employed.

Unfortunately, our research and outreach revealed significant gaps in the availability of support services, and in particular emergency support services for immediate needs. Data from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, for instance, reveals significant unmet support-service needs among job-training participants across the country. Moreover, from Durango to Fort Morgan, from Lamar to Craig and up and down the I-25 corridor, those we interviewed almost universally espoused the need for a fund that would address the immediate, low-dollar needs of the job-seekers they work with every day.

No low-income person should have to forego a training or employment opportunity simply because they can’t afford a licensure or certification, a set of work clothes or tools, or a tank of gas the day of a potentially life-changing interview. But as our outreach to countless organizations illuminated, too many Coloradans experience employment setbacks for those exact reasons. From a statistical standpoint, these interviews are validated by the fact that 46 percent of all Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency expense.

Fortunately, a bill developed by CCLP and the Skills2Compete Coalition seeks to address the immediate, low-cost needs that stand in the way of Coloradans pursuing a job-training or employment opportunity. Sponsored by Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, and Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, House Bill 1310 would provide public agency and nonprofit staff with  last-resort funding source for low-income job-seekers at pivotal times in entering or re-entering the workforce.

No one disputes that Colorado is a leader in the nation in workforce development and skills training. We have state-of-the-art apprenticeship programs, stellar nonprofit employment agencies, an effective transitional jobs program, strong rural training providers and a dedicated fund to promote job opportunities available in high-demand industries. Collectively, these programs help grow and diversify our economy and give Coloradans the tools they need to become financially self-sufficient.

The strength of these programs is undermined, however, when the progress of their participants is derailed by a low-cost financial emergency such as a broken car alternator, a malfunctioning cell-phone or $20 balance in unpaid rent. With benefits capped at $400 per eligible individual, per year, HB 1310 would complement our state’s job-training and employment programs by ensuring their participants can withstand an unexpected financial emergency.

Poverty, a disability, lack of transportation and other barriers have made it difficult for a significant portion of Colorado’s population to obtain in-demand skills or re-enter the workforce. While HB 1310 won’t single-handedly resolve the many challenges low-income job-seekers face, we believe it will provide a necessary helping hand to those who are actively trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, through a strategic and modest use of our state’s resources.

Learn more about HB 1310 and the robust coalition supporting it in this fact sheet.

–Kristopher Grant

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