Aug 30, 2018

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How We Work: A CCLP Success Story

by | Aug 30, 2018

Editorial note: This posting was re-purposed from a chapter in CCLP’s 2017-18 Annual Report

Families that rely on basic cash assistance will get a bump in their monthly payments starting in September, 2018. That’s thanks to the leadership of CCLP staff, our partners in the direct-service, advocacy and faith-based communities and dozens of brave Colorado Works’ recipients who devoted their time and energy to explain to the state’s Human Services Board why the increase was needed.

Coloradans who participate in Colorado Works, Colorado’s version of the federal Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program, usually have no other source of income than the cash assistance provided by that program. They are among the lowest-income residents of our state. Previously, a Coloradan with two children received a maximum of $462 a month in cash assistance — an amount barely enough to cover food and hygiene products, let alone rent. Cash assistance hasn’t been increased in 10 years, during which time the cost of living in Colorado has skyrocketed. With the raise, the average eligible family will get an additional $46 in monthly assistance. Although $46 a month might be considered a pittance by many Coloradans’ standards, it will make a big difference for the state’s lowest-income families, covering the cost of nine meals for a family of four, one week of infant formula or gas for two week.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), which championed the proposal, settled on a 10 percent increase because that’s how much counties could afford to spend within their existing TANF appropriation from the state. Counties are projected to spend $10 million less than they received in federal TANF funds last year, and due to several years of under-spending, county reserves have now ballooned to an amount that exceeds $50 million. Before the recipients could receive the raise, the proposal needed to be approved by the nine-member Human Services Board, the body that adopts the rules that establish the policies of CDHS.

Proposal faced opposition
But while the 10 percent increase was much-needed and long-overdue, getting the Human Services Board to approve the raise was fraught with challenges. The proposal was met with opposition by Colorado Counties Inc. (CCI), the influential lobbying organization representing county governments.

CCI and county government representatives agreed that an increase in cash assistance was justified, but they believed the state legislature should approve the increase using money from the state’s general fund. In particular, counties were concerned that drawing from their reserves would jeopardize funding that some have relied on to support other programs, such as child welfare and child care assistance — even though there was sufficient money to support an increase while maintaining those programs.

“When CCI first took a position opposing this, we knew that passing an increase would be an incredible challenge,” said Jack Regenbogen, CCLP’s Family Economic Security Attorney and Policy Advocate.

Undeterred, Jack and CCLP’s Family Economic Security Manager Chaer Robert drove to Cañon City to testify in front of the Human Services Board. They were joined by Laurie Harvey, former CEO of the Center for Work Education and Employment (CWEE) a direct-service organization that helps individuals receiving TANF obtain employment so they can transition off public assistance.

Before the Cañon City hearing, Jack put together a packet of materials that included endorsements and testimonials. He gathered dozens letters of support for the proposal. Members of the faith-based community also testified in favor of the proposal. But while the divided board advanced the proposal, with several members absent at this hearing Jack said he knew that he and the partners would need to “step up their game” to win final approval in a July 6 hearing in Denver.

Responding to this challenge, Jack wrote an op-ed in The Denver Post supporting the proposal. He worked with partners and CCLP staff in developing fact sheets and information graphics to be distributed among advocates in meetings and social media. Jack also encouraged all advocates with connections to Human Service Board members to reach out to them individually. Aubrey Hasvold, Advocacy Manager of Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, filmed and edited a video where a client talked about the need to raise cash assistance.

“We knew that when we got to that hearing in July that it was really important for the clients to lend their voices and perspectives,” Jack said.

All hands on deck
With that knowledge, CWEE invited Jack to attend an awards ceremony honoring those who are advancing through the program. Jack recruited a few dozen volunteers to testify in support of the increase during the July Human Services Board hearing. However, the challenge for these parents was getting transportation, food and child care during the hearing because their time and resources were limited. One of the partners from the Colorado Children’s Campaign suggested obtaining funding from The Colorado Trust to pay for taxi service, breakfast burritos and sandwiches for those who testified. The coalition also arranged to set aside at a CDHS conference room with toys and activities where the children could play throughout the hearing.

The day of the hearing, the CWEE clients spoke of their struggles and communicated the need for raising basic cash assistance. One mom was holding her baby and discussing the cost of laundry, when the child threw up on her, as if on cue. Another mom talked about trying to decide whether to use her last remaining dollars to buy diapers or tampons. Diapers won out since she is required to provide them for her child-care provider. Another mom talked about being a few dollars short on rent, which ballooned after the addition of late fees.

After five hours of emotional testimony and deliberation, the participants were called into the hearing room again when the board reconvened. Jack said everyone was still uncertain about the outcome of the hearing.

“At that point, if they were going to vote no, we wanted them to look the people who would be affected in the eye,” Jack said.

Fortunately, the board voted to approve the increase by a 6-2 vote, with one member absent.

“The room erupted into applause and hugging and tears,” Jack said. “There was such a display of emotion that was really incredible to witness.”

While the achievement was a collective effort involving 50 endorsing organizations and leadership within the All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition, including CCLP, CWEE and the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, Jack said much of the credit goes to the parents who testified.

“If not for the dozens of clients and their kids that came, I don’t think we would have gotten a permanent 10 percent increase. I think the community members felt very empowered by the experience… As a result, there’s $8 million more per year going directly in the pockets of Colorado’s lowest-income families to meet their basic needs.”

In retrospect, Jack credits teamwork and determination in making this victory for Colorado’s lowest-income families possible.

“The cards were really stacked against us,” he said. “We had to use every option we could think of from the op-ed to the breakfast burritos. Anything we could do to get this effort across the finish line.”

-By Bob Mook

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