Women’s advocate to lawmakers: Don’t penalize children for parents’ economic woes

Continuing our new series, Colorado Confidential is publishing guest commentaries from politicos, former lawmakers, issues groups and others on their hopes for the 2008 state legislative session.

Click the image at left as a link to the OpEds posted thus far.

Today, we invite you to read the perspective of Chaer Roberts, director of the Denver Women’s Commission.Most Coloradans would agree that anyone who works hard should be able to provide for his or her family’s basic needs: housing, food, heat, health care, etc.  Most would also agree that children should not be unduly penalized for the circumstances of their parents.

Here in Colorado, 10.6 percent of people live in poverty — the federal government’s standard for being poor. As an example, the Federal Poverty Level for a family of three is $17,170/year.  But 20.5 percent of households live below the Self-Sufficiency Standard, which varies by county, family size and age. The standard is the break-even point at which people can provide for their own basic needs without government or private help. It does not include debt repayment, savings, entertainment or eating out.

Colorado also had one of the nation’s biggest increases in childhood poverty – from 12 percent in 2001 to 15 percent in 2006. Families of young children are also vulnerable to the “cliff effect” — the abrupt loss of key work supports. As parents’ earnings surpass $8 per hour, they lose food stamps, energy assistance, child care and health care for their children, before the break-even point (often $16-$20/hour) at which they are earning enough to pay for everything themselves.

So what will the 2008 Colorado Legislature do to help struggling families? We will see.  Likely legislation includes:

  • Restoring funding for, and making permanent, the State Earned Income Tax Credit. This could put up to $475 each year in the pockets of low-wage families, who lost their Earned Income Tax Credit with the loss of the “TABOR surplus.”
  • Raising the income ceiling for Child Care Assistance from 225 percent to 309 percent of Federal Poverty Level. This would help those who can lose many hundreds of dollars per month Child Care Assistance with a 10-cent-an-hour raise.
  • Expanding the number of State PreSchool Program slots.  Moving to full-day kindergarten. Besides the direct benefit to low-income  children, a parent saves hundreds in monthly child care costs.
  • Increasing the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families monthly stipend. Families on “welfare” have not seen a cost-of-living increase in more than 20 years. The maximum a parent with two children can receive is $356 per month.  Colorado’s TANF roles have fallen to less than 10,000 families statewide, even as childhood poverty rates have risen.
  • Raising the current income ceiling (150 percent of FPL) for Medicaid family planning services, helping those below the Self-Sufficiency Standard.
  • Moving toward covering all children with health insurance.  Currently children lose Child Health Plan coverage at 205 percent of FPL, which is short of the point at which families can afford premiums.
  • Eliminating the parental co-pay for “reduced price” school lunches, at least for kindergarten through second grade. This would aid families earning between 135 percent and 185 percent of FPL.
  • Protecting low-wage families who are often renters.  Tenant protections such as a warrant of habitability, requiring that a unit be habitable, and more timely return of security deposits can help vulnerable families.
  • Mandating parental leave for school conferences and children’s medical appointments so that parents can avoid risking their jobs to help their children.
  • Chaer Robert has been Director of the Denver Women’s Commission since 1985. The Commission works for women through coalition building, legislative advocacy and public information.

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