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Opinion: Colorado’s Basic Cash Assistance families need a boost out of poverty

Most Coloradans struggle to keep up with the rising costs of housing, food and utilities. For parents, the squeeze makes it even harder to provide the basics like diapers, bus passes, school supplies and formula. 

For families in our communities with the least income, Colorado provides Basic Cash Assistance to bridge gaps between jobs or paychecks so kids are less affected by the toxic effects of living in poverty. 

Rhonda Fields

This assistance hasn’t kept up with the rising cost of living in Colorado because it is not adjusted for inflation. In fact, the purchasing power of Basic Cash Assistance has eroded by nearly 15% since 1997. This is a grim statistic for families who rely on the program to meet their basic needs. 

Simply put, $508 is not enough to cover the most basic expenses for any family in Colorado.

Yet, that’s the maximum Basic Cash Assistance a parent with two kids currently receives from Colorado Works, the state’s version of the Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) program. Coloradans who receive Basic Cash Assistance often have no other source of income. 

By definition, families receiving Basic Cash Assistance are experiencing extreme poverty, which has a lifelong impact on a child’s health and well-being.

Dominick Moreno

Studies show that extreme poverty can inhibit early brain development and negatively impact a child’s ability to succeed in school and develop social-emotional skills. 

One study found that people who experienced poverty between birth and age 5 completed two fewer years of school, were twice as likely to be arrested and were three times more likely to be in poor health as adults as peers who live in moderate- to upper-income surroundings. 

In 2018, about 65,000 children in Colorado were experiencing extreme poverty. That means that these children are living in families whose income is below 50% of the federal poverty level (FPL) — or about $12,875 a year for a family of four. All families participating in the Colorado Works program are raising children or expecting a child. 

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Conversely, making cost-of-living adjustments to Basic Cash Assistance would go a long way toward relieving families’ financial stress and improving their health. Studies show that increases in family income – including through direct financial assistance programs – can lead to improved outcomes for kids living in poverty and even increase a child’s future earnings. 

In 2018, the Colorado State Board of Human Services approved a 10% increase – the first such increase in 10 years. While the increase was a big step forward, Basic Cash Assistance has still not kept up with the rising cost of living in Colorado, putting the health and stability of Colorado children at risk.

That’s why we are co-sponsoring Senate Bill 29 with Rep. Monica Duran and Rep. James Coleman.

Supported by the Colorado Children’s Campaign, Colorado Center on Law and Policy, and other advocacy partners, SB-29 would increase the amount of Basic Cash Assistance payments to help make up for the lack of adjustment for inflation since the program was created in 1996 and implement an annual cost-of-living adjustment so that the value of Basic Cash Assistance doesn’t deteriorate in the future. 

When we as a community remove barriers to financial security for families experiencing the most obstacles, we ensure kids start off on a strong path.

Please join us in supporting this important legislation that will have a positive impact on the health and well-being of all Coloradans.

Sen. Rhonda Fields represents District 29 in the Colorado Senate. Sen. Dominick Moreno represents District 21 in the Colorado Senate. 

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