What a session! It was a long 120 days that ended Wednesday evening, but the 2016 State Legislative Session led to significant steps forward for Coloradans struggling with hunger. For each of you that sent an email, made a phone call or met with your state legislators—THANK YOU!
Hunger Free Colorado’s top priority this year was an ambitious goal: to increase accountability in the Food Assistance Program so it better serves Coloradans, regardless of which corner of the state they call home. To our great delight, not only did we take three critical steps towards that goal, but we did so with the backing of every state legislator and a broad coalition of stakeholders and advocates.
We approach all of our work with a collaborative framework, knowing that public policy is most successful for those we serve—Coloradans of all ages, backgrounds and zip codes who may be experiencing hunger—when developed with transparency, thoughtful compromise and the fulfillment of commitments as partners. The 2016 Legislative Session illustrated both the power of that model but also how difficult it can be to carry out.
It is incredibly rare that substantive legislation to improve public assistance is passed unanimously, but that was the story of Senate Bill 16-190. This bill to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of food stamps and other assistance programs was sponsored by the Joint Budget Committee and advanced with unanimous support from both the Colorado State Senate and State House. Now it heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature. (Find out more about what this bill proposes to do and why it matters.)
First, we would like to thank the members of the Joint Budget Committee for their leadership and commitment. This would not have happened without them engaging stakeholders to find ways to improve food stamps in Colorado. Secondly, thank you to every member of the State House and State Senate for supporting SB 16-190. We also would like to thank all of you—the advocates and policymakers—for articulating the importance of this work. As Sen. Kevin Grantham (R-Cañon City), a member of the JBC, said recently in The Denver Post, “The entire legislature, both parties, both houses, recognize the need.”
SB 16-190 was an example, in the best sense, of the art of compromise and practical policy-making. We worked on the accountability measures for program administration and the Colorado counties succeeded in addressing one of their top priorities—getting a study of what resources they still need. We look forward to supporting its implementation. (Read the full story on how the bill came to be written and introduced.)
Hunger Free Colorado’s work on another piece of compromise legislation had very different outcomes. Here the spirit of compromise was seen as a detriment by those who opposed the bill.
At the request of Rep. Dominick Moreno (D-Commerce City), who championed the “Breakfast After the Bell” legislation in 2013, Hunger Free Colorado worked with the Colorado School Nutrition Association to craft legislation that would allow him to keep a promise made to the House Education Committee in 2015, without inadvertently harming low–income children. (Read a full history of this issue.)
We believe that, under the circumstances, the best possible compromise was presented in House Bill 16-1463. The proposed legislation would allow Rep. Moreno to keep his word, support the financial well-being of Colorado school districts and ensure kids from low-income families still had access to a daily breakfast after the school day began.
When HB 16-1463 was introduced, an opposing nonprofit organization led an effort to condemn, using misinformation and false statements about the nature and impact of the bill. Those false statements were repeated on the House and Senate floors. Preying on the fear of inadvertently harming children, opponents were able kill the bill in the Senate after advancing from the House.
Though their strategy may have been successful in the short-term, our real concern centers around the long-term implications of their chosen language and political tactics—undermining many Coloradans’ efforts to reduce the stigma of hunger, increase support for nutrition programs, and find practical policy solutions that work for both sides of the aisle.
The next steps on this issue will depend upon Colorado’s school nutrition directors and how this experience impacts their perspective on trying to find another compromise.
We will continue to pursue our goal of eliminating hunger in Colorado through partnership, transparency, and when needed, thoughtful compromise.
By Cate Blackford, director of public policy for Hunger Free Colorado