Our response to the coronavirus—emergency child care, remote learning, health insurance, paid sick leave, family economic security, and much more

Written by: Tara Manthey
Date Posted: March 20, 2020

This week at the Children’s Campaign everything we’ve worked on for months (and years in a few cases) came to a sudden halt. At the height of our policy advocacy cycle, our events were cancelled, we delayed the release of KIDS COUNT, and all of our priority legislation to improve child and family well-being is on hold–at best.

As we shut all that down, we scrambled to set up systems for our staff to work from home. We are now shifting our focus to protecting the health and well-being of Colorado children and families as COVID-19 threatens our health and as our economy has come to a standstill. Our policy, outreach, research and support staff are hard at work on solutions to the growing problems our communities face.

We want to keep you up to speed on these efforts because we will be calling on advocates soon to make their voices heard or to help out where they can. Our families and neighborhoods are stronger, safer and healthier when we come together in moments of joy and celebration, and of illness and crisis. If you are a partner and are able to help in these areas, please reach out to the staffer leading the work. Here’s what we are working on:

Emergency child care for workers in health, public safety and other essential services:

The spread of COVID-19 threatens to overwhelm the essential services on which we all rely, from health care to public safety. During this crisis, the importance of child care is being highlighted in Executive Orders and national advocacy efforts. Gary Community Investments, the Colorado Department of Human Services, and other non-profit and private sector partners, including the Children’s Campaign, have been partnering to identify professionals essential to Colorado’s emergency response who need child care and providers who can offer care. Ensuring child care is available to these fellow Coloradans who are essential to our state’s COVID-19 response will save lives. Contact Bill Jaeger at bill@coloradokids.org to learn more.

Protecting the fragile early care and education sector:

Our early care and education systems support both children’s healthy development and the ability of parents to work, and in times of crisis we must support this sector’s work. It is not an understatement to say that the fragility of the early care ecosystem could mean a substantial loss of licensed early care and education providers as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. This sector, which operates on such thin margins and is led by and employs mostly women, requires emergency support to withstand the disruption the weeks and months ahead hold. Most providers cannot survive a two-week shutdown in services and revenue, let alone an extended period of closure that we may need to see in response to the outbreak.  To respond to these challenges, we have been working with partners to advocate at the state and federal levels for investments in the early childhood sector that will help ensure its viability now and in the future. We have already seen some progress with this advocacy as Gov. Polis included a call out to payment for child care providers by the Colorado Department of Human Services as a part of his March 17 Executive Order. Contact Bill Jaeger at bill@coloradokids.org to learn more and consider joining the national sign on letter in support of child care here.

Emergency support for Coloradans living in extreme poverty:

Direct cash assistance for families is one of the most essential supports to provide right now, especially for families who are facing the greatest barriers to financial security. For families enrolled in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), known as Colorado Works in Colorado, or for families who may become enrolled in TANF in the coming months, the need for direct cash assistance now is critical. Families who are experiencing extreme poverty are already struggling to meet their basic needs on a daily basis and are not able to purchase extra food or household items in the face of COVID-19. The amount of basic cash assistance that families receive in the TANF program is already too low to allow them to meet basic needs and it does not adjust for inflation. These families need an additional infusion of cash assistance immediately to help them respond to the unprecedented situation our communities are facing.

The federal government is considering providing direct cash payments to many U.S. households to help families weather the current crisis. It is important that these payments be substantial enough and reach as many low-income families as possible, including those who may not file an income tax return because their earnings are lower than the filing threshold. However, we know that, even if these payments are approved, it will take time for families to receive them, and the wait will be too long for families experiencing extreme poverty who are already struggling. -Sarah Barnes, sarahb@coloradokids.org

Medicaid and health insurance access: This week, the Colorado Health Policy Coalition (20 health organizations including us) sent a letter to the Polis administration urging immediate actions to improve health equity in the face of COVID-19. Among other things, the letter asked Medicaid to take specific actions to help keep Coloradans enrolled in coverage and expand access to tele-health. The letter asked our administration to work with our federal partners to pass coronavirus relief legislation. It called on the Colorado Department of Insurance to open an emergency Special Enrollment Period for health insurance coverage in the exchange and highlighted the urgent need to expand access to emergency child care for health care personnel. You can read the letter here. – Erin Miller, erin@coloradokids.org

Ongoing provision of critical health services, including behavioral health services: We are also thinking about how to ensure that Colorado kids and families can maintain access to critical health services. This includes maintaining access to health services for students who receive occupational or physical therapy services at school and health or mental health services through their school-based health center. It also includes making sure that pregnant women can access the physical health and mental health services they need to stay healthy and have good birth experiences. — Erin Miller, erin@coloradokids.org

Ensuring equitable access to remote learning opportunities: All of our K-12 students will be home from school for the foreseeable future. While school districts have been directed to make every effort to provide alternative learning opportunities during this time, we know that many schools are well-equipped to make the shift to online learning. They have the necessary devices and technology; quality, accessible online learning curriculum; and robust internet access. However, many schools are not as able to make this shift. Further, educators will be expected to make major pedagogical changes required for digital learning in a stressful time. We are committed to working with CDE and all of our K-12 partners to ensure that students, educators and families have what they need to deliver and access high-quality remote learning opportunities. — Leslie Colwell, leslie@coloradokids.org

Legislative Update

The legislature has gone into recess until at least March 30, and the governor has closed the Capitol to the public indefinitely due to concerns around spread of the coronavirus. These are unprecedented moves. Our state’s constitution stipulates that the legislature can meet for no more than 120 days. Lawmakers are waiting on guidance from the Colorado Supreme Court on whether or not the 120 days need to be consecutive. The court’s decision could have serious implications. If they say that the 120 days need to be consecutive, then the Legislature would still need to adjourn for the year on May 6, which could give lawmakers little-to-no time for any bills to pass. If the court says that the days do not need to be consecutive, then the legislature could resume their work at a later date and keep going until the 120 days are fulfilled. We do know that there are two bills that they have to pass before the end of the state fiscal year on June 30: the state budget (Long Bill) and the School Finance Act. What other bills and priorities are, or will be, on the table if and when they return remain to be seen. The next court deadline on this question is Tuesday, March 24 when we expect to get more information.

capitol update and covid-19 update

 

Tara Manthey

About Tara Manthey

Tara McLain Manthey leads the Children’s Campaign’s development, advocacy, and communications efforts. In this role she manages teams advancing and supporting the Children’s Campaign’s work through digital and in-person outreach and philanthropy. She serves as chair of the Board of Directors for the Downtown Denver Expeditionary School, a Denver Public Schools charter school. A citizen of the Osage Nation of Oklahoma, Tara serves on the editorial board of the Osage News and is co-founder and co-chair of the Colorado Osage Association. She serves on the board of Denver Indian Family Resource Center and is past chair of the national Annie E. Casey Foundation KIDS COUNT Steering Committee.