Mar 13, 2019

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Small investments could generate big returns for Colorado workers

by | Mar 13, 2019

What did you need to prepare for your last job interview, or to avoid an emergency that might make you miss a day at work? An Uber ride? A suit and tie? Babysitting? For some Colorado workers, these seemingly minor considerations can be daunting barriers to securing or maintaining employment.

According to the latest figures from the U.S. Census, more than 429,000 – or 8 percent of the state’s working-age households — live under the Federal Poverty Level (FPL).

The FPL translates to $16,910 a year for a family of two, and $4,320 more for each additional member of the household. Most Coloradans living under the FPL are working in jobs that pay insufficient part-time and/or seasonal wages. Many are getting training for new careers or job opportunities that could help them become more self-sufficient. For residents living below the FPL, it’s easy to see that a lack of money in the bank can turn a small but essential need — such as buying a $50 construction belt or spending $250 to fix a punctured tire — into an emergency that puts a job at risk. Sadly, lack of access to emergency cash assistance prevents many Coloradans from getting or keeping employment.

Now, imagine if economically disadvantaged Coloradans could rapidly obtain funds to cover the costs of these small but un-affordable expenses, allowing them to secure and keep a job and collect a steady paycheck. Investing just a small amount of money into these workers could improve their long-term employ-ability and economic stability.

To make this vision a reality, the Colorado Skills to Compete Coalition (coordinated by Colorado Center on Law and Policy) has developed House Bill 1107, commonly known as the “Emergency Employment Support Services Bill.” The legislation is the result of years of stakeholder meetings with more than 70 workforce centers, employment-focused nonprofits, and other public agencies in Colorado. Administrators from the Colorado Department of Labor & Employment (CDLE) and the Department of Human Services (CDHS) have also been involved in discussions.

Sponsored by Rep. James Coleman and Sens. Rhonda Fields and Kevin Priola, HB 1107 would establish a three-year pilot program that would provide funds to community-based organizations that work with people who are trying to get into the workforce or improve their skills to get a better paying job. These organizations would be able to help people with unexpected expenses that could derail their job training or employment prospects. Participating organizations will be able to address the need of the beneficiary quickly if the request meets the criteria. The fund would be administered by CDLE, but disbursed by community organizations and public agencies.

For $1 million a year for three years, this innovative pilot project would be an investment to help at least 2,000 Coloradans a year secure or retain a job. Eligible recipients must have income at or below 100 percent of the FPL, and be currently working with a community organization, workforce center or other public agency on an employment goal. Skills2Compete hopes that a successful pilot will allow the program to be expanded and serve even more Coloradans in years to come.

Although the bill’s direct focus is on supporting workers, it would benefit businesses as well. Employers such as hotels, restaurants, cleaning companies and small businesses, often struggle with high employee turnover due to emergencies that occur in the lives of new workers. HB 1107 can help to stabilize the workforce of a wide array of employers.

The bill passed with bipartisan support 7-3 on Jan. 30 out of the House Business Affairs & Labor Committee. It has since moved on to House Appropriations, where the committee will determine how much funding to appropriate to the program.

A statewide source of employment support services would help more Coloradans participate in  the state’s economic boom and transition into more stable career opportunities, while helping businesses attract and retain a talented workforce in the long-term. Forging a path to self-sufficiency for these Coloradans would benefit their families and Colorado businesses as those people become more active participants in the state’s economy.

You can support HB 1107 by contacting Chaer Robert at [email protected]

-By Duranya Freeman

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