Jack Regenbogen previously served as Senior Attorney at Colorado Center on Law and Policy.

Jun 20, 2018

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Raise cash assistance for needy Colorado families

by | Jun 20, 2018

Roughly 17,000 Colorado families enrolled in Colorado’s Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program could soon get a little more cash to help meet their basic needs. Since the last increase in cash assistance occurred almost a decade ago, Colorado has become one of the most expensive states to live and raise children.

On June 1, the Colorado State Human Services Board tentatively moved to proceed with a proposal to raise basic cash assistance for participants in Colorado Works, Colorado’s TANF program. Currently, a Coloradan with two children only receives $462 per month in assistance, an amount barely enough to cover food and hygiene products, let alone rent.

One participant of the program, Antoinette Weed of Denver, said she uses the cash assistance to defray the costs of rent, electricity, hygiene and transportation for herself and her two boys, ages 9 and 5. Currently, Antoinette is enrolled in Center for Work Education and Employment (or CWEE), a nonprofit organization that helps low-income family gain the skills and education needed to transition off public assistance and gain long-term employment.

But while Colorado Works and CWEE are giving Antoinette the skills needed to find a better job, the cash assistance she gets from Colorado Works barely keep Antoinette and her family afloat.

“I have nothing after groceries, day care, and all my other monthly expenses,” she said.

Antoinette is not alone. For the roughly 17,000 Colorado families enrolled in TANF, making ends meet while they strive to reenter the workforce is a constant struggle—and it gets tougher every year.

If given final approval by the board during its July 6 meeting, TANF recipients will receive 10 percent increase in basic cash assistance — providing an additional $46 per month for a three-person family like Antoinette’s. Those additional funds will make a big difference in helping families cover the costs of basic needs.

Antoinette expressed appreciation for the Colorado Works program, but she also acknowledged the difference that an additional $46 per month would mean to her family. “If I got an extra 10 percent in my monthly payment I could pay for a month’s worth of laundry, my phone bill, my son’s sports fee, school pictures, or a few books for my kids at the book fair.”

While the Human Services Board will be considering a final vote on July 6, the outcome of this hearing is far from certain. Many counties have expressed opposition to this increase, despite acknowledging that cash assistance needs to be increased. In particular, they have raised concerns that increasing cash assistance could jeopardize funding that some have relied on to support other programs, such as child welfare and child care assistance.

While it is understandable for counties to favor flexibility in their spending, there are ample funds to support an increase in cash assistance for our neediest families while maintaining the vitality of these other programs.

The Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS), which has championed this proposal, settled on a proposed increase of 10 percent because it is an amount counties can sustain with the existing TANF appropriation from the state. Counties are projected to have underspent the federal TANF funds they received last year by $10 million, and due to several years of underspending, county reserves have now ballooned to an amount that exceeds $50 million.

Since the proposed increase would cost roughly $8 million a year, counties would not need to use these ample reserves to fund this proposal. And while counties have been stashing away funds for later, thousands of Colorado families are struggling on a daily basis.

Colorado also has $107 million in its long-term TANF reserve. While legislative approval is needed to transfer money from this fund, CDHS has shown a willingness to use state funds to support counties that have overspent their state funding for child care and other programs that serve children. A few weeks ago, CDHS submitted an emergency budget supplemental to the General Assembly to transfer $8 million in state funds to support counties’ child welfare expenditures. This example, along with other recent increases in state funding for child care, demonstrates that we can raise cash assistance for families, while maintaining sufficient funding for child care and child welfare.

The time for an increase in cash assistance is long overdue. Everyone benefits from the healthier economy and more stable communities that expanding this resource enables. Along with our partners at the All Families Deserve a Chance Coalition,Colorado Center on Law and Policy  is proud to support this effort to better assist Coloradans on the path to self-sufficiency.

The State Human Services Board will be deciding the fate of thousands of families at a hearing in Denver on July 6, and we urge the Board’s members to lend their support to this important proposal.

-By Jack Regenbogen

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