Colorado’s demographics are changing, and that will have important ramifications for the policy decisions made in the state capitol and in Congress, which affect so much of our everyday lives. Until now, it’s been common for politicians to pay lip service to the concerns of Hispanic voters, while offering little in the way of concrete efforts to make policy changes that will improve our lives. That will have to change as this growing community insists on genuine reform. 

Angel Merlos

America’s Hispanic population is on the rise. Our community has had a significant presence since the nation’s founding, and it has been growing quickly in recent years – up by 23 percent in just the last decade, according to the 2020 census. But as Axios reports, some Colorado metros saw a population surge nearly two times that rate. We saw this growing Hispanic clout become an important factor in the recently concluded redistricting debate. 

It’s clear this cohort will be a rising factor in our state’s economy, neighborhoods, and policy debates. While issues such as government spending, education, and health care are priorities for all of our state’s residents, that’s no less true for Latinos. Our voices will increasingly matter in Denver and in Washington when these topics are debated.

For example, politicians have in the past gone into the Hispanic community and promised to fix health care in our state. But those efforts seem to have come up empty. A whopping 73 percent of Latinos recently told pollsters that the cost of health care in our state is an extremely serious or very serious problem. An overwhelming 90 percent favor changes to government regulations to make health insurance and medical care more affordable.

Instead of accepting the same old promises, Latinos in Colorado should press elected officials to remove barriers that are preventing patients from receiving quality health care from their providers. And instead of doubling down on the failed status quo, lawmakers should welcome innovation, transparency, and personalized care.

That means rejecting a one-size-fits-all, government-run approach to health care, in favor of a healthcare personal option, including greater access to health savings and reimbursement accounts, permission for nurses to deliver care for which they are trained, and expedited action by the Food and Drug Administration.

Economic growth and prosperity are also key issues for Hispanic workers and families, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Decision-makers in Denver must ensure that the size and growth of government is limited, so that the economy has room to thrive, and workers may keep more of their paychecks. This type of pro-growth economic policy will allow more Hispanic families to find work, start a business, and provide for their loved ones. 

Lawmakers in Washington likewise should reject tax hikes and unnecessary regulations and red tape that make it difficult for Hispanic workers to see their wages grow. Instead we must be allowed to keep more of our hard-earned money to spend, save, and invest as we see fit.

Similarly, education is a top concern for Hispanic families, as many continue to struggle under the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every family – including Hispanic families – should have the tools they need to ensure their kids thrive, as well as the ability to customize their children’s education so that they are able to find fulfilment and become lifelong learners.

Families should have greater control over how education dollars are spent – including the option to use them for a broader range of approved purposes. That should include educational technology, online learning, tutors or seminars, and private, charter, or homeschools.

And as important as these issues are, immigration is also a significant challenge. We need to fix our broken immigration system by making it easier for folks to positively contribute to our country. Policymakers in Washington should adopt sensible immigration proposals that provide permanent legal status and an opportunity for citizenship to Dreamers, while enhancing border security.

The Hispanic community has been urging lawmakers for more than a generation to work together and take action on immigration. It’s time to finally update these laws to make sense in the 21st century.

On all these policy priorities, it’s important for lawmakers to offer more than just the same old rhetoric. The Hispanic community has arrived, and we are looking for real answers.

In the months and years ahead, we will be pushing for solutions instead of slogans. And we will be uniting with the lawmakers who actually listen to our concerns and offer more than empty platitudes to do good in Colorado.

Angel Merlos, of Denver, is community engagement director of The LIBRE Initiative-Colorado.

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Angel Merlos, of Bennett, is strategic director at The LIBRE Initiative in Colorado.