The Sun, the Stars: Creating Two-Generation Legislation

May 19, 2014 |

Setting the sun. Under the Colorado sunset review process, the responsibility for conducting sunset reviews alternates between the committees of reference in the state House and in the Senate. Generally, a sunset law is a law that automatically terminates a state regulatory agency, board, or function of government on a certain date.   This summer, while sunset means goodbye to an important partner in Colorado two-generation work, we’re happy to say hello to several important legislative changes that will impact families for years to come.

During the 2009 legislative session, the Colorado General Assembly supported the formation of an interim committee, the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force, to help all Colorado families achieve self-sufficiency and reach financial security.  The task force goal:  find opportunities to reduce the number of Coloradans, including children and families, living in poverty by 50 percent before 2019. Included in the declaration of House Bill 09-1064, legislators affirmed;

“(d) more states are recognizing that reducing poverty by addressing the needs of low- and moderate-income families is a critical economic development issue. Reducing poverty requires strategic, integrated, and comprehensive approaches that create opportunities for families to achieve economic success, including creating quality jobs, providing work supports, promoting greater collaboration with the private sector, and implementing targeted tax policies.” (house bill 09-1064)

The interim committee, having survived the economic and political impacts of the Great Recession, will sunset on July 1, 2014. From 2009 to 2013, the legislative members of the Economic Opportunity Poverty Reduction Task Force promoted statewide policies to create pathways for opportunity and reduce barriers to economic self-sufficiency for low-income Colorado families. Legislation to mitigate the “cliff effect,” streamline program processes, and increase opportunities for high-quality child care was passed to support Colorado families. Although the progress of the movement was obscured by the impact of the Recession and the political retrenchment of austerity, in the summer of 2013, State Senator John Kefalas convened committee members for one final rally. Around 40 stakeholder organizations and 10 legislators returned and committed to six months of policy development.

When the sun sets, the stars begin to shine. The light left after this interim committee sunsets includes the Colorado statutes with promising strategies for future policy agendas that are comprehensive and successful. For the 2014 legislative session they specifically include House Bill 14-1085 Adult Education and Literacy Programs (sponsored by task force member, State Representative Rhonda Fields) and, as Molly Yost notes in this Ascend blog post, HB14-1317 Colorado Child Care Assistance Program Changes (co-sponsored by task force member, State Senator John Kefalas).

The passage and funding of HB14-1085 and HB14-1317 support the state’s policy efforts to put our childhood poverty rate on a downward trajectory.  For real impact through state legislation, we have to include educational opportunities “throughout the lifespan” – such as those for low-wage, low-skilled parents who may need a little more support before they enter any of the available mainstream education and training programs.  Without the passage of HB14-1085 these parents can’t move or transition into the middle-skill labor market or higher academic or vocational training associated with the demands of Colorado’s changing economy. 

The education and skill building continuum highlights the “two generation approach” to poverty reduction. This strategy provides a constellation of supports for families striving to attain economic self-sufficiency along a continuum. As the Ascend Two-Generation Playbook highlights, the goal is to ensure a legacy of economic security passes from one generation to the next.

As a new day dawns for Colorado policy makers and advocates, we have the ability to focus our work to reduce intergenerational poverty by increasing opportunities to serve children and their parents together. In Colorado, the early twinkling ideas of a “two-generation” approach have provided us with a shared vision for this work. When we remain focused on the needs of the family and recognize the assets of the community, we can continue to develop policies and programs that are sustainable far beyond the sunset.

Tracey Stewart is a Principal at Colorado Impact: Center for Economic Prosperity (Colorado Impact). Colorado Impact represents the next step in effective policy development to reduce poverty through increased community engagement in the policy making process. Our mission is to strengthen the assets of the community and build economic prosperity for all through community engagement, research, education, advocacy and increased social capital.

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