Vol. 31, No. 8
Access to Justice
A Comprehensive Approach to Access to Justice: The Colorado Center on Law and Policy
by Kathleen J. Gebhardt
This department is printed six times per calendar year. Readers interested in contributing an article on legal services, pro bono, and access to justice topics should contact Kathleen Gebhardt at (303) 499-8859 or
This month’s article was written by Kathleen J. Gebhardt, of Kathleen J. Gebhardt, L.L.C., Boulder—(303) 499-8859 or
Access to justice, especially for low- and moderate-income Coloradans, often requires advocacy well in advance of access to the courthouse. The Colorado Center of Law and Policy ("CCLP") recognizes this, and offers a wide range of advocacy for low- and moderate-income Colorado residents, beginning with the initiation and implementation of legislation that affects this segment of Colorado’s population.
Welfare Reform Advocacy
Legislation that has had significant impact on low- and moderate-income individuals is that which deals with welfare reform. The U.S. Congress is currently debating the reauthorization of the legislation responsible for welfare reform. The success or failure of the original welfare reform legislation is a hotly contested issue. Generally, those individuals and families most impacted by the legislation have difficulty finding effective advocates for changes that are necessary pursuant to the reauthorization.
History of the CCLP
A bit of history should be helpful in understanding why advocacy is so critical to those most directly affected by the changes to the welfare system. In August 1996, President Clinton signed into law the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act ("PRWORA").1 PRWORA brought significant changes to the welfare system, including replacing Aid to Families With Dependent Children ("AFDC")2 with the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program ("TANF").3 Under PRWORA, the federal government awarded block grants to states with only general requirements, such as work requirements for participants and a five-year total lifetime limit. Thus, states were free to design and run programs as they deemed necessary.4
The Colorado General Assembly enacted legislation that established the "Colorado Works" Program ("Program").5 One of the elements of the Program was to provide counties with increased responsibility for the design and administration of the Program. This resulted in basically sixty-three different programs. Thus, it is challenging to ensure that those entitled to welfare assistance receive it, along with the information they need, to help them move toward the ultimate goal of self-sufficiency.6
To further complicate matters, prior to 1996, Colorado Legal Services ("CLS") was one of the primary advocates for low- and moderate-income Coloradans, and helped determine and negotiate their rights under the new legislation. However, in 1996, Congress enacted legislation that imposed restrictions on the activities of federally funded legal services programs. After these restrictions were implemented, CLS became extraordinarily limited in its ability to engage in legislative advocacy and was prohibited from filing class actions, as well as from challenging the new welfare reform law.
CCLP was formed in 1998 in response to these congressional restrictions on legal services programs. It is a continuation and expansion of CLS’s advocacy function project begun in 1996.7 CCLP is dedicated to providing Colorado’s low-income and working poor with the same advocacy and assistance available to all other citizens of Colorado.8
CCLP Projects and Goals
CCLP focuses on several important projects, including welfare reform, health care access, and analysis of state/local budget and tax policies. CCLP also is involved with a project known as the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute ("COFPI"), which provides independent analyses of the effects of state and local tax and budget issues, primarily on low- and moderate-income individuals.9 COFPI is part of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ State Fiscal Analysis Initiative, a network of twenty-two state-based research and public education organizations seeking to provide reliable fiscal analysis to enhance public participation in policy debates.
One of CCLP’s goals is to increase access to affordable, quality health care. In 2001, approximately 41 percent of children of low-income families or parents in Colorado had no health insurance. Comparatively, 14 percent of all children in Colorado had no health insurance.10 The number of uninsured or underinsured in this state is as high as 1.2 million.11 Thus, CCLP’s approach to increasing access to affordable, quality health care is two-pronged: (1) examine systematic problems that present barriers to the health care system; and (2) provide health care to all Colorado residents.
CCLP successfully advocated for changes in Colorado’s "Children’s Basic Health Care Plan," a state program established by statute.12 This Plan provides health insurance for children not eligible for Medicaid, but whose family income is below 185 percent of the federal poverty level.13 The changes included halting a decision to send families who were behind in their monthly insurance premium payments to a collection service. Many of the participants in this program did not know they were enrolled in the program, let alone that they were required to pay premiums. CCLP also advocated for forgiveness of all past debts for program enrollees.
CCLP helped found the "Colorado Consumer Health Initiative" ("CCHI"), a consumer-based coalition with more than fifty participating organizations that advocate for access to quality health care for all Colorado residents. With CCLP’s guidance, this coalition became an independent nonprofit organization funded by the Rose Community Foundation. Both CCLP and CCHI are currently working on recommendations for future federal legislation regarding national health insurance.
CCLP is also working with CLS on one Colorado county’s failure to properly enroll Medicaid-eligible persons in its program. CCLP represents clients who are not eligible for CLS assistance. CCLP focuses on the provision of private health insurance and is working with hospitals and providers to assist low- and moderate-income Colorado residents gain access to affordable health insurance.
CCLP’s Office of Fiscal Policy has worked to develop and publish the first-ever Colorado "Family Needs Budget." This document reports the amount of money families need without public or private assistance in order to cover the basic costs of living in Colorado. In 2001, an updated version of the report, the "Self-Sufficiency Standard"14 ("Report"), was released. This Report contained data for all sixty-three Colorado counties, thus allowing for comparisons of the cost of family economic self-sufficiency between counties. The Report has been helpful to legislators, governmental agencies, and others in drafting effective policies for low- and moderate-income working families. The Report takes an important step in resolving this issue of economic independence.
Within the last few months, in collaboration with a coalition of faith-based and other organizations, CCLP held a forum on family formation and welfare reauthorization in the Denver metro area. CCLP will continue to conduct similar forums over the next year, as well as work on legislation related to this issue.
CCLP also has worked closely with lawyers from the Colorado Lawyers Committee in a class action suit filed against the state of Colorado, Adams County, and Denver County, which involves more than 900 families that lost life-sustaining benefits when they were improperly sanctioned or terminated from the "Colorado Works" Program. Although Denver County and the state settled out of court, the case went forward against Adams County.
In September 1999, the trial court ruled that Adams County’s inadequate sanction notices violated the Fourteenth Amendment’s procedural due process rights of participants. Adams County appealed the case to the Colorado Court of Appeals. On July 5, 2001, the Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment of the trial court; subsequently, the Colorado Supreme Court denied the petition for certiorari.15 Adams County is seeking review from the U.S. Supreme Court. This case has been an important victory for "Colorado Works" participants.
Looking to the Future
Other up-and-coming CCLP projects include a report entitled "The State of Working Colorado." This report will focus, in part, on the impact the documented and undocumented immigrant worker has on Colorado’s economy. Currently, there is little information about this population. A report evaluating the "Transparency of Colorado’s Budget Process" will soon be released. A score card created by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a national organization, will be used with the hope that the budget process in Colorado will become more open to the public, in general, and legislators, in particular. This report and scorecard will enable Colorado citizens to compare Colorado’s budget process to that of other states.
The CCLP is a proactive, affirmative model of how attorneys can work to provide access to justice for low- and moderate-income Colorado residents. The active involvement of CCLP attorneys helps to make a difference in the daily lives of this segment of the population, and sheds a positive light on the legal profession.
1. 42 U.S.C. §§ 601 et seq.
4. Visit CCLP’s website at: http://www.cclponline.org.
5. CRS §§ 26-2-701 et seq.
6. Supra, note 4.
7. One of CCLP’s original supporters was the Colorado Lawyer Trust Account Foundation.
8. For additional information about CCLP, welfare, and other related issues, contact Maureen Farrell, Executive Director of CCLP: (303) 573-5669; firstname.lastname@example.org.
9. COFPI is accessible online at http://www.cofiscalpolicyinst.org.
10. Kids Count in Colorado! 2002 Report: "A Close Look at Colorado’s Children: Colorado Children’s Campaign." Visit http://www.aecf.org/ publications.
12. CRS §§ 26-19-101 et seq.
14. See The Self-Sufficiency Standard for Colorado: A Family Needs Budget (Aug. 2001), prepared for the Colorado Fiscal Policy Institute: http://www.cofiscalpolicyinst.org.
15. See Weston v. Hammons, 99-CV-0412 (Denver District Court); Weston v. Cassata, 37 P.3d 469 (Colo.App. 2001); Cassata v. Weston, 01-SC-565 and 01-SC-1535 (1/14/02), petition for writ of cert. denied.
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