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A No-Brainer in Colorado: Funding for Birth Control

If I were to tell you that there was a program that helped women get the most effective forms of birth control and had reduced the teen birth rate by nearly 40% in four years, you’d probably say, “This is amazing, tell me more.”  If I told you that for every dollar invested in this program, the state had saved $5.85 in Medicaid costs, you might say, “You can’t argue with that math.” And if I told you that there was has an opportunity to continue this fantastic work, you’d probably say, “That’s a no-brainer, they should keep doing it.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to be a no-brainer for some members of the Colorado state legislature.

The state legislature is currently debating whether it should fund the Department of Public Health and Environment to continue the Colorado Family Planning Initiative. The program, which helps women get access to long-acting reversible birth control (LARCs,) was started in 2009 with funding from a private donor. The funding ends in June. The program’s impact on the state cannot be overstated. There have been reductions in: unintended pregnancy; abortion rates; numbers of infants needing nutrition support; and, Medicaid spending on births. Women, children, families, and the state budget all benefitted from this program, so why is there any debate? Read more »

Way to Go Colorado! Much Needed Child Care Assistance Signed into Law in the Centennial State

Newsflash: Child care is expensive

In a majority of states, the cost of child care for an infant exceeds the cost of public college tuition.  That cost pinches the wallets of all families with young children in paid child care.  For low-income families, it’s much more than a pinch—on average, families in poverty who pay for care spend nearly one-third of their income on that care.

Child care costs in Colorado are particularly high relative to median income—on this measure, Colorado ranks among the least affordable.  But parents will have help with these costs thanks to new state legislation signed into law last month.  These new laws will offer much-needed assistance to low-income families with young children.    Read more »

Colorado Bill Improving Child Care Tax Credit Advances Out of Legislative Committee

The early learning experiences of children make a huge difference. Unfortunately, low- and moderate-income families are in desperate need of resources to help pay for child care. In Colorado, for example, the average cost of center-based child care [PDF] was $12,621 for an infant and $9,239 for a four-year old (in contrast, the average in-state tuition at a public Colorado four-year college was $7,849). Unfortunately, for many families, such help is hard to come by.  In Colorado, a family earning up to 85% of state median income (around $58,000 a year for a family of three in 2013) may be eligible for child care assistance, but in many counties, the income limit is much lower.  And a family of three with income at 150% of the federal poverty level (around $29,295 a year in 2013) would still have to pay $269 per month, or 11% of their income, in child care co-payments.  For those families, $3,228 per year is a significant chunk out of their budget.  And although Colorado offers a refundable tax credit for child care expenses, the current structure of the credit makes it almost impossible for low-income families to benefit.  Read more »

When Will the Minimum Wage Go Up?

It's a fitting question to ask this week, which marks the 75th anniversary of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the landmark law that established the first federal minimum wage. And it's a particularly important question for women, who make up nearly two-thirds of minimum wage workers nationwide.

The answer, though, depends a lot on where you live. A majority of states follow the federal minimum wage, which is not scheduled to rise even though it has been stuck at $7.25 an hour for almost four years — and for tipped workers in states that follow the federal standard, the minimum cash wage has been frozen at a shockingly low $2.13 per hour for more than 20 years. But in states like Washington, Colorado, Ohio, and Vermont, the minimum wage will automatically rise in January 2014 to keep up with inflation, and minimum wage increases recently enacted in New YorkConnecticut, and Rhode Island will also begin to take effect in 2014. 

To make it easy for you to find out what’s happening with the minimum wage in your state, the National Women's Law Center just released this handy interactive map

Find out how the low minimum wage affects women in your state

You can click on any state to see its minimum wage and tipped minimum wage, along with the share of minimum wage workers who are women, the next scheduled increase in the minimum wage, and any recent action on the minimum wage in the state legislature.  Read more »

Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts Steps Up for Children and Families

Hats off to Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts, who announced an impressive plan to invest in strengthening the state’s education system, including not only the K-12 and higher education systems, but early education as well. The Governor recommends that $350 million be targeted over four years to expand and improve the state’s early education and care system. This investment would eliminate the state’s waiting list of nearly 30,000 children who need but cannot currently access child care assistance, expand the state’s Quality Rating and Improvement System (QRIS) to help early educators and providers offer higher-quality experiences to children and families, increase educational programs and supports for parents and family members, and strengthen efforts to provide comprehensive support to children and families. In addition, new school finance funding would be used to incentivize school districts to offer prekindergarten for four-year-olds.

In order to raise the revenue necessary to support these fundamental education initiatives, Governor Patrick, in his state of the state address, proposed to increase the state income tax by one percent, to 6.25 percent. He also proposed to double personal exemptions and eliminate certain itemized deductions in an attempt to distribute the burden of the tax increase based on ability to pay.        Read more »

3 Bad Opinions: A Frustrating Week for Women’s Rights and Health

Last Wednesday started off a week’s worth of bad court decisions in cases that directly affect women’s reproductive health.

It all started off with the 8th Circuit upholding a South Dakota law that requires doctors to tell a woman seeking an abortion that she would be subjected to “increased risk of suicide ideation or suicide” if she had an abortion. The court seemed unconcerned with the fact that a woman would likely interpret the disclosure as telling her that having an abortion would cause her to be at an increased risk of suicide (a link the scientific studies do not support). Making constrained arguments about relative risk and scientific “uncertainty,” the court rubberstamped a misleading disclosure that will only confuse women in South Dakota seeking abortion care. Decision outcome: it’s ok to mislead women? Check.

Second, a district court in Colorado temporarily stopped the health care law’s contraceptive coverage requirement from taking effect for a for-profit CO company, which specializes in heating and cooling systems, based on the claim that requiring coverage of birth control in a health insurance plan violated the company’s religious freedom. After the judge determined that questions like whether a for profit HVAC company can exercise religion “merit more deliberate investigation,” the court then decided that the government had failed to show it had a compelling interest in providing women access to contraceptive coverage and that there were less restrictive means for doing so. Decision outcome: it’s ok for your boss to make health care decisions for you? Check. Read more »

How Often Do We Have to Do This? Another Attempt to Take Away Contraception

Apparently we have to keep fighting for basic health care. On Friday the Colorado state legislature took up a measure that would have a lasting impact on women’s access to health services, such as contraception.

The Colorado Senate Memorial 12-003 calls upon Congress to enact the Respect for the Rights of Conscience Act of 2011. This extreme bill introduced in Congress gives virtually limitless and unprecedented license to any employer or insurance plan, religious or not, to exclude coverage of any health service, no matter how essential, as required by the federal health care law.

In fact, this legislation was recently repackaged as the Blunt Amendment and attached to a routine transportation bill. Fortunately, this extreme measure was voted down by the U.S. Senate. As an aside, one of the Republican Senators who voted for the Blunt Amendment—Senator Murkowski—realized, after the vote, the extreme nature of the Blunt Amendment and now says she regrets her vote. Read more »

2012 Brings a Minimum Wage Increase for Workers in 8 States—Especially Women

Here’s a little bit of good news for the new year: more than one million low-wage workers got a raise on January 1, when the minimum wage increased in the eight states that index their minimum wage for inflation. In each of these states (Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Montana, Ohio, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington), women make up a majority of the workers who will see their paychecks increase this month.  An adjustment for inflation also increased the minimum wage in San Francisco to $10.24 per hour, making it the first large city in the country to require hourly pay above $10.

However, these jurisdictions represent the exception rather than the rule. While another 10 states, the District of Columbia, and some other localities have minimum wages that are set higher than the federal minimum wage, most of their minimum wage rates are fixed and don’t keep pace with inflation. The minimum wage is still below $9.00 an hour in every state but Washington (where it just rose to $9.04/hour). Worst of all, in more than half the states, the minimum wage remains at the federal level, which is just $7.25 an hour.

As the New York Times editorial page highlighted, it’s past time for the federal government to set a higher standard for the states. A woman working full time, year round at the current federal minimum wage will earn just $14,500 annually – that’s more than $3,000 below the federal poverty line for a mother with two children. The value of the federal minimum wage has declined over time; if it had kept pace with inflation since 1968 (when the wage was at its highest mark), it would now be $10.39 per hour. The federal minimum wage for tipped workers is lower still; since 1991, it has been set at just $2.13 an hour, providing an annual base wage of only $4,260 for tipped employees working full time, year round. Read more »

State of Women: NWLC Hosts State Partners in Washington, DC

The National Women’s Law Center hosted a daylong seminar in Washington, DC welcoming 18 state advocates from 10 states across the country to launch a new project, State of Women. Read more »