Last summer the Colorado Joint Budget Committee unexpectedly learned about a problem with food stamps in Colorado. The state-supervised, county-administered program was penalized with a $1 million fine by the USDA due to issues with the administration of food stamps. The committee of six state legislators–three Representatives from the State House and three State Senators, who are responsible for the state budget—had to write the check to the USDA, and they were not pleased.
The Joint Budget Committee (JBC) started taking a closer look at the program. They learned that Colorado hovers near the bottom of the national rankings in program access and has done so for over a decade. They also discovered that access to food stamps varies wildly across Colorado’s 64 counties. Armed with this information and the large fine payment, the JBC began considering ways to make Colorado’s food assistance program more efficient and effective across the state.
Federally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Food Assistance Program in Colorado, food stamps is the largest community resource to prevent and alleviate hunger. The vast majority of eligible Coloradans are children, seniors, working adults, veterans and the disabled. Yet, right now in Colorado, only just over half of those eligible are participating—meaning many of our neighbors are struggling, unnecessarily, to get the food they need to fuel better, healthier lives.
You see it in your community, whether you’re a real-life expert, having experienced hunger yourself; you have friends and family who struggle to make ends meet; you work or volunteer for a food pantry providing food for neighbors who have fallen on hard times; you help connect kids with meals at school, after school and during the summer; or work with seniors, trying to make sure they’re getting the food needed to maintain their health and independence. Too many of our neighbors are hungry.
That’s why Hunger Free Colorado’s top priority during the 2016 state legislative session was fixing food stamps across the state.
In January, after meeting with the Colorado counties to walk through and discuss the data, we released our Food Stamp Impact Reports for all 64 counties. We collaborated with the counties, as well as Republicans and Democrats in both the House and the Senate, on ways that the state could address what is and isn’t working when it comes to program administration. We worked to shore up the understaffed state human services office that’s trying to support each of Colorado’s 64 counties as they administer the program. And we worked on clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the state and the counties so there’s less confusion and more accountability.
On March 17, the JBC voted unanimously to sponsor a bipartisan bill, Senate Bill 16-190, to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Food Assistance Program, as well as increase the state’s capacity to provide support and oversight for the counties with three additional staff.
The bill that the JBC authorized is a huge step forward for food assistance in Colorado.
SB 16-190 quickly made its way through the Senate Appropriations Committee, the Senate floor, then the House Appropriations Committee and the House floor. At each step, it passed unanimously, with JBC members strongly supporting it, speaking about the need to improve such a critical program and dispel the disparities in access that exist across the state.
Hunger Free Colorado is incredibly proud of the work that went into the passage of SB 16-190 and will be there to support its implementation. We will do our utmost to support opportunities for those impacted by this program and the bill to engage in that process as it moves forward.
Thank you to everyone who made this possible—from advocates to legislators, county staff to state staff, and everyone in between.
By Cate Blackford, Director of Public Policy