by Bill Knowles
TRINIDAD — The State Department of Human Services leaders met with local leaders and staffers from both the Las Animas County and Huerfano County DHS offices last Saturday in Trinidad at the old Rice School building.
The building itself has been purchased by the City of Trinidad and is in the process of morphing into the new Trinidad Police Department building.
In the newly painted meeting room, the crowd of about 40 participants heard from the Colorado Department of Human Services Executive Director Reggie Bicha before breaking into smaller groups to discuss questions and problems faced by the county departments.
Bicha, making note of the growth in services that CDHS and the local offices have made over the past year, said that it was the goal of human services to ensure that Coloradans could thrive in the communities of their choice.
“We want them to achieve economic security through meaningful work and prepare for educational success throughout their lives,” Bicha said.
One of the steps forward made by the CDHS is the timeliness in determining the eligibility for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP). “Last year about 53 percent of the applications weren’t timely. Now we have 80 percent to 90 percent timeliness on applications.” New rules call for SNAP applications to be processed within 28 days of the initial filing. The numbers show that Colorado is the second most improved state in timeliness of SNAP filings.
So far in 2016, the Las Animas County Department of Human Services has put nearly $390,000 into the local economy through SNAP benefits and $500,000 in LEAP utility payments.
And so far there has been a 39 percent increase in the number of children being placed in a high quality childcare program. That’s a 29 percent increase in 2015, with those numbers going up 43 percent for the first half of 2016.
Licensed childcare in both Las Animas and Huerfano counties is lagging behind, with only one-third of Las Animas receiving licensed childcare while a full half of Huerfano County is receiving that benefit.
The state budget for 2017, which began July 1, 2016, is set at $27 billion dollars. Ten billion of that is the state’s general fund, taxpayers’ dollars. Forty percent of that goes to K-12 education. Thirty-two percent goes to health and human services, which includes all the Medicaid dollars, and everything that is in the DHS budget. After Medicaid takes it’s share, CDHS receives about eight percent of the state’s budget. This leaves 28 percent of the state’s budget to cover everything else that the state does, according to Bicha.
When the attendees broke up into small groups to discuss ideas for improvement and efficiencies in getting benefits to applicants, their mandate was to keep in mind the levels of funding available from the state as governed by TABOR’s hard rule of financial growth and Amendment 23, which governs funding for public education