On Oct. 24, 2013, a group of six individuals came together, including two Colorado lawmakers and four civic leaders, to be a part of a panel talking to the role of advocacy in alleviating poverty, particularly among women and children in our state. More than 20 Coloradans attended the free community event, held in the conference center at the Children’s Hospital of Colorado. CHIP (The Children’s Hospital Immunodeficiency Program) was one of the sponsors of the evening. The other two sponsors were Project WISE, a women’s empowerment nonprofit based in Denver, and the Colorado Participation Project (CPP). CPP is a nonpartisan program that provides voter information and civic participation resources to nonprofits who serve politically marginalized communities.
Jennine Jeffries who is a senior at Metro State University of Colorado, as well as an intern at CPP and a graduate of the Women’s Leadership Program of Project WISE, convened the panel, in collaboration with Rachel Contizano. The purpose of the evening was to host a screening of the I-News of Rocky Mountain PBS documentary, Losing Ground: the Cliff Effect. The documentary was funded by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado and Janet Mordecai. The event also provided attendees with a robust, interactive panel discussion of the policy issues around the barriers to adequate work supports for families seeking to transition from public assistance programs to economic stability.
- Tracey Stewart, co-founder of Colorado Impact: Center for Economic Prosperity,
- Contizano, a single mother who helped organize the evening and who was hired as a researcher at Colorado Impact after graduating this June from the Colorado Women’s College at the University of Denver,
- Rebecca Gorrell, a graduate of the Masters in Nonprofit Management Program of Regis University and Program Director at CPP who will take over as the organization’s executive director in December,
- Fran Coleman, chair of the Denver Welfare Reform Board and principal of Coleman Consulting, LLC where she has been a public policy consultant since January 2007, and
- Colorado lawmakers: Representative Rhonda Fields and Senator John Kefalas.
What is the Cliff Effect?
According to the Women’s Foundation of Colorado,
“Currently in Colorado, public assistance for the working poor isn’t designed to allow women the opportunity to incrementally increase their wages to work toward self-sufficiency. In fact, as a family’s earnings increase and they rise above the official poverty level, they begin to lose eligibility for tax credits, childcare subsidies, health care coverage and food stamps even though they are not yet self-sufficient. So although parents may be working and earning more, their families can’t reach financial security. This is called the Cliff Effect, and it results in many women refusing pay increases, forcing them to live a life of dependence.”
In Colorado, families headed by single mothers have the lowest median annual income of all family types at $26,705, according to the 2013 Report on the Status of Women and Girls in Colorado, research released in June 2013 and commissioned by the Women’s Foundation of Colorado.
What the panelists had to say
After the film was shown, which features the personal stories of three women who are all graduates of the Women’s Leadership Program of Project WISE, Jeffries facilitated a discussion among the panelists around women’s economic self-sufficiency in our state. A central issue to the evening was the Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) and the implementation of legislation, SB13-22, passed last year that is intended to permit counties to pilot a more gradual transition of child care subsidies for families as parents get jobs and begin to increase their wages. Stewart explained that because of the shortage of affordable child care in our state, it is typical for a family to have to pay as much as $1,500 a month for one child’s care.
One of the panelists, Representative Rhonda Fields was elected to the Colorado House of Representatives in 2010. Fields is the first African American woman elected in House District 42 in Aurora. She runs on a platform of protecting the most vulnerable, promoting economic growth and education reforms at the State Capitol. Fields is also the founder of the Fields Wolfe Memorial Fund, a nonprofit started in memory of her son, Javad Fields and his fiancée, Vivian Wolfe. The two CSU graduates were murdered on June 20, 2005, less than a week before Javad planned to testify as a key witness in the murder of his best friend. That tragedy set in motion her public service career, beginning in 2007 when Gov. Bill Ritter appointed Fields to the Colorado Commission on Criminal Juvenile Justice.
In her remarks on Oct. 24, Fields said,
“We have to view this [SB22] as an investment. Right now, particularly in Washington, we’re talking about ‘things,’ like Obamacare and safety net programs, instead we need to be talking about people again.”
In responding to the discussion question, “What sort of government programs could help women enroll and stay in school part-time or full-time?” Fields touched on her concern about the rising costs of higher education for our young people today. She talked to the importance of her degree in propelling her to economic stability and the role receiving a Pell grant played in her life.
Senator John Kefalas who represents Fort Collins and other communities in the northern part of our state, touched on the importance of a “two-generation approach” to alleviating poverty in our country. He continued, in emphasizing that the only way to affect the laws was to get involved,
“Public policy is a reflection of the values of the people who participate in the political process. Get to know who your elected officials are.”
Future community meetings for women to address the Cliff Effect
Panelist Rachel Contizano wrapped up the evening by inviting event attendees to tell family and friends about an initiative she and Jeffries are organizing as volunteers. This initiative will begin on December 4, 2013 and will offer women and children facing economic challenges a series of free trainings on how better to advocate for themselves and their families at the State Capitol, in navigating current public assistance systems, at their children’s schools, etc. The first of the free community meetings will be held at Project WISE at 1301 Kalamath Street in Denver. Contizano, in explaining the purpose of these grass-roots assemblies, said,
“It will be like a ‘domino effect.’ But instead of falling down, it’s encouraging people to stand up.”
For more information about the Cliff Effect and how you can host a Losing Ground: the Cliff Effect screening in your community, visit the website of the Women’s Foundation of Colorado. Discussion guides are also available to download in Spanish and English via the website. To get involved in the Advocating for You and Your Family meetings kicking off this December, contact Jeffries at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Project WISE at 303-765-5879.