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Issue Position: Human Services

Issue Position

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Location: Unknown

Visionary leadership to ensure the safety of our children and adults, and access to a safety net for all of Colorado.

Key Priorities

* Protect Colorado children and adults.
* Leverage every federal dollar to reduce the waitlist for persons with developmental disabilities.
* Ensure adequate and affordable housing for our workforce.
* Support the continuation of the foreclosure hotline and gaining greater flexibility across the state with federal stimulus dollars.

"Communitywide partnerships are paramount to the success of our youth of today and tomorrow."
-John Hickenlooper

"Providing affordable housing, services and support to the most vulnerable citizens in our state is essential to both creating healthier communities and in promoting economic development. These services are not just the right thing to do; they are the smart thing to do."
-John Hickenlooper

Background

Through a client-focused approach, the Colorado Department of Human Services, working closely with County Commissioners and community leaders, will establish measurable outcomes focused on statewide entitlement programs to ensure that they act as a "safety net" to help people who enter the workforce and qualify for disability assistance.

The most prevalent categorical human services are delivered through entitlement programs housed, primarily under the Colorado Department of Human Services' (CDHS) Office of Self- Sufficiency & Independence and the Office of Children, Youth & Families. Examples of entitlement programs that are administered by the state under these respective offices include Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Child Welfare. These programs are designed to provide a "safety net" for Colorado's neediest and most vulnerable residents. Their funding streams originate at the federal level, to CDHS, as required. CDHS provides oversight of the federal funds, allocating them to each of the state's 64 counties, where the services are administered.

Change can be effected through use of existing resources, fixing system issues through waivers and addressing federal laws that impact the CDHS. This could lead to new efficiencies.

* Colorado must leverage all resources for human services by drawing down new, untapped federal funds specific to child welfare, TANF, workforce development, developmental disabilities, food security and housing.
* Ensure that the services that are delivered will most efficiently and effectively promote the client's goals. To that end, we want to be sure that there is a close alignment between the Ombudsman's Office and the CDHS, so that they are working toward that collective goal. Recommendations must be made directly to the CDHS.
* Colorado must recognize the ingenuity and significant contributions of the county departments of human services and the non-profit community in developing and delivering effective, best practices in human services, not only by helping to share the practices statewide, but by continuously nurturing the ongoing creative solutions. National data show that county-administered states (48.4 hours) had faster response times to reports of child abuse or neglect than state-administered (90.9 hours) child welfare systems.
* Colorado must recognize the ingenuity and significant contributions of the county departments of human services and the non-profit community in developing and delivering effective, best practices in human services, not only by helping to share the practices statewide, but by continuously building on the ongoing creative solutions.
* Colorado should engage recommendations put forward by the Women's Foundation to Work regarding the "cliff-effect" to implement reforms focused on effective delivery of services and better coordination with agency departments to ensure that citizens who successfully engage the "safety net" do not fall back into poverty.

More specifically, we must lead on the following five key areas of human services with an emphasis on efficiency, employment opportunities and economic development.

Solutions & Strategies

Child Welfare: A Hickenlooper administration, in collaboration with County Commissioners, will take every step necessary to assure the highest level of safety, permanency, and wellbeing for Colorado's vulnerable children and youth. The Governor's Child Welfare Action Committee and the State's Fatality Review Committee examined every part of Colorado's Child Welfare system, and identified issues and weaknesses that Colorado, as a system, must address. Working with County Commissioners, we must clearly define and more strictly administer policies, standards, requirements, and expected outcomes from the counties where these programs are delivered. All this can be done while maintaining local control.

Counties must examine themselves and redouble their efforts to adopt new and more effective practices to assure that every child who comes into the system is protected. This is what Coloradans expect of us; to employ every method, every effort and every resource to keep our children safe from harm. We must examine existing child welfare services to ensure that Colorado is employing best practices for the families and children in our communities. And we must encourage local business and community partnerships to support successful transitions of foster youth aging out of care.

Finally, we must work to ensure that Colorado's child welfare system is addressing compliance issues with the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in the areas of safety, permanency and well-being. We believe this can and should be done, while maintaining local control of human services with their respective counties.

A recent review found that Colorado did not meet standards for abuse, in-home care and placement stability. Like most states, Colorado is also not in compliance with standards measuring child safety and well-being.

TANF and Workforce Development: We must support families and individuals in Colorado to attain self-sufficiency by charging state and county agencies with facilitating applications to unemployment benefits and other public benefits. Recently, more Coloradans have had first-ever experience applying for unemployment benefits and other public assistance (the "new poor").

Developmental Disabilities: We will re-examine funding for persons with developmental disabilities by improving services for children and youth with disabilities, serving the developmentally disabled and helping reduce waiting lists. Here we can make short-term investments that can have long-term benefits.

Food Security: Colorado must respond to hunger by setting achievable and measurable goals and timelines for enrollment and participation in federal programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP a.k.a. food stamp program), summer nutrition programs and school meal programs, to increase access to food stamps and decrease error rates associated with food stamp delivery. We will engage efforts to resolve efficiencies with the Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS) to develop the most efficient technologies possible allowing Coloradans who are in need to access a safety net of services. Once accurately assessed, we will ensure that all needs (both inter- and intra-agency) are addressed through the delivery of appropriate services.

Housing: Colorado is a very desirable place to live, with a high quality of life. Housing issues for the new future will center on foreclosures, property values and affordable housing for very low-income individuals and families. Compared to other regions of the country Colorado's housing market is stable. Public and private initiatives created a network of financial and counseling support for troubled homeowners. Foreclosures fell 18% from 25,056 in 2007, to the current 20,437. Traditionally, foreclosures in Colorado range from 5,000 to 8,000. New foreclosure filings reached a record level of 46,394 in 2009, but the percentage of homeowners able to avoid foreclosure through loan modifications, short sales and refinancing increased 56%. The cause for foreclosures shifted from predatory lending to loss of income. Housing policy must emphasize recovery and focus on future and smart growth.

* We will call for a comprehensive Housing Policy for Colorado that aims to stabilize families and encourages local governments to adopt sustainable growth policies to meet regional housing needs.
* Affordable housing will target seniors, persons with disabilities, homeless families and chronically homeless individuals and Veterans. For every person in housing, the potential cost of subsidized health costs, human service benefits, educational support and law enforcement is significantly reduced.
* We will develop a coordinated response among public and private partners to improve access to affordable housing for the 15,834 homeless children in our public school system. By stabilizing these families in affordable housing we reduce the public assistance cost and avoid disruption of education of children in these families.
* We will support entry-level housing for first-time homebuyers. The reduction in housing values coupled with low mortgage rates and federal home-buying tax credits has created a unique opportunity for many new homeowners.

Homelessness: Consistent with the collaborative work of cities and states around the country with ten year plans to end homelessness the administration should adopt a plan elevating collaborative and cost-efficient approaches defined by the following goals:

* End Veterans homelessness: A combination of strategies involving prevention, access to affordable housing, and health and income security, along with better screening and coordination when a person leaves the services, more housing assistance for Veterans who fall on hard times, links to employment, and permanent housing with supportive services for Veterans who have disabilities, would ensure that these brave men and women who served their country are never homeless again.
* Ensure that every family and child has a home: We now know that with help locating affordable housing and short- or long- term rental assistance along with services to help them stabilize in their communities, schools and employment, families with children can quickly move back into their own homes, therefore minimizing the harm done to children.
* End homelessness for the most vulnerable Americans: An additional 90,000 units of permanent supportive housing would end long-term homelessness in the United States. Particularly in light of the recent foreclosure crisis, it is imperative that the nation's increased attention on housing stability include a focus on protecting the most vulnerable Americans from becoming or remaining homeless. This includes targeted efforts by State departments (Department of Corrections, Department of Youth Corrections, and CDHS) to ensure Coloradans successfully transition from public institutions and services toward healthy community connections promoting self-sufficiency.

Cost Savings: The choice is not whether we want to provide housing for people who are homeless. The choice is the type of housing and the cost of the housing. Detox and jail are very expensive substitute housing programs. Data suggest that providing Coloradans experiencing homelessness with housing leads to lower health- and community-costs, resulting in better outcomes. There is mounting evidence that the prevention of homelessness - versus reacting after citizens fall into homelessness - is a more cost efficient approach for communities and states with limited resources.

"...Enormous sums of money are already being spent on the chronically homeless, and...the kind of money it would take to solve the homeless problem could well be less than the kind of money it (would take) to ignore it." -Malcolm Gladwell, "Million Dollar Murray"


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