A legal fight is brewing between El Paso County and the State of Colorado over new state-mandated increases in welfare payments. The county calls it an unfunded mandate that flies in the face of existing state law and an executive order issued by Governor John Hickenlooper.
The Colorado Human Services Board passed a rule earlier this month which increases cash assistance grants under the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program by 10 percent. A typical single mother of two currently receives an average grant of $462 per month in TANF benefits. Under this increase, that amount will go up to $508.
The Colorado Department of Human Services is not providing counties with any additional funds to pay for the increases. Instead, they are expected to take the extra money out of their savings to cover the higher cost.
"That’s a one-time source of money where this is going to be a continuing appropriation," said El Paso County Commissioner Mark Waller.
He said the higher grant amounts will cost El Paso County taxpayers an additional $1.9 million per year. He expects the County’s TANF reserves to be depleted in a year or two.
"Either the legislature is going to have to come up with more dollars for this specific program or the County is going to have to start making cuts elsewhere."
Julie Krow, the Director of Human Services for El Paso County said those cuts would likely affect the most vulnerable in our community.
"Do we cut services to child welfare, our most vulnerable little kids in the County that are being abused and neglected? Do we redo services in C-CAP which is our childcare assistance program, or do we cut community-based programs," Krow said.
One potential cut, the annual $90,000 contract with TESSA. A lack of financial means often prevents domestic violence victims from leaving their abusers sooner.
Waller pointed out that DHS Director Reggie Bicha avoided asking lawmakers for a funding increase to cover the benefits expansion, even though Colorado law specifically requires approval by the legislature.
"An increase in the amount of the basic cash assistance grant approved by the state department shall not take effect unless the funding for the increase is included in the annual general appropriation act or a supplemental appropriation act." C.R.S. 26-2-709 (1)(a)(IV)
Additionally, this rule seems to defy Governor Hickenlooper’s 2011 executive order setting policy to enhance the relationship between state and local government.
"No state agency shall promulgate any regulation creating a mandate on local governments unless …. the state government provides the funding necessary to cover the costs incurred by local governments in complying with the mandate." Executive Order D 2011-05
"Director Bicha has said there hasn’t been a raise in this (program) in the last 10 years," Waller said. "Well, Director Bicha has been the Director of Human Services for the last 8 years. Why is he waiting until the eleventh hour of the Hickenlooper administration to affect this change?"
Waller said legislative committee which reviews new rules set by state departments won’t meet again until October, a month after people will begin receiving the larger TANF grants. He said El Paso County is looking into legal options to try and seek an injunction to prevent the rule from taking effect.