Perhaps the most important of the welfare reform measures passed by Congress 17 years ago doesn’t serve three-fourths of working poor families in Colorado, according to an I-News analysis of state data, census figures and Colorado-specific research reports, as well as interviews with benefit recipients, policy experts and government officials.
And among those who do receive child care assistance, their chances of escaping poverty and achieving self-sufficiency – the golden miter of welfare reform – aren’t good, either. Those closest to escaping poverty face the perils of the “cliff effect,” in which even a modest increase in family income can lead to the elimination of a benefit worth thousands of dollars.
The analysis also shows that Colorado’s local control system of determining child care eligibility limits can be wildly inequitable, depending on where one lives.
Watch the full documentary “Losing Ground: The Cliff Effect” above. The Cliff Effect report is an extension of “Losing Ground,” the I-News at Rocky Mountain PBS report released in January 2013 and published statewide by more than two dozen media sources.
The measures passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 “to end welfare as we know it” were heralded as a ticket to economic self-sufficiency. The poor would be encouraged to enter the workforce and eventually leave all welfare assistance behind. But for most of the tens of thousands of working poor families in Colorado, the vision of self-sufficiency is illusive.
Cliff Effect: The Voices
Rachel Contizano, a Denver native, was employed and living independently in New York City, just as she wanted. Then she went on maternity leave before Christmas in 2009 and was soon notified that her job had been eliminated. She applied for unemployment benefits and received them for the full 99 weeks allowed, her job search fruitless month after month.
Jennine Jeffries is a woman with an engaging smile, a firm handshake and an articulate yet unvarnished way of telling her own story: Broken and abusive childhood home, a frequent runaway and juvenile delinquent, alcohol and drug addictions as she became a popular bartender, a stint in jail. But her story doesn’t stop there.
The Women’s Foundation of Colorado initiated groundbreaking research to learn more about the cause of the Cliff Effect and lay the groundwork for solutions.
Read a recap of The Women’s Foundation of Colorado's Statewide Research Summit on the Status of Women and Girls in Colorado - from their youngest audience member.