Lend a hand to those seeking employment or job-training

Jenny Kraska is the executive director of the Colorado Catholic Conference.

In the Encyclical Laborem Exercens, His Holiness Pope John Paul II reminds us that it is “through work that man must earn his daily bread and…to elevating unceasingly the cultural and moral level of society within which he lives in community with those who belong to the same family.” Our occupations, skills and contributions to society and the world, His Holiness maintained, are the methods by which we occupy this Earth as the image of God.

Unfortunately, far too many of our neighbors are unable to earn their daily bread. Indeed, Colorado is experiencing record low unemployment; but lost in that statistic are the nearly one in five working-age Coloradans who are not working. Poverty, a disability, lack of transportation, limited education, and other circumstances all pose significant barriers to many Coloradans seeking to make a better life for themselves and their families by entering the workforce.

Yet despite these barriers, thousands of these Coloradans strive to learn a new skill or land a decent-job so that they can achieve economic self-sufficiency. One example we see every day are the ReHire participants within the Catholic Charities’ Diocese of Pueblo. These students work closely with Diocese staff to overcome a particular barrier, acquire valuable skills and find employment with a targeted business partner.

Unfortunately, there are gaps inherent within ReHire as well as the dozens of other nonprofit and publicly funded employment service programs across the state. According to a statewide needs assessment conducted by the Skills2Compete Colorado Coalition, emergency employment support services — such as child care, transportation, work equipment and more— are significantly underfunded.

Our state’s public and private employment programs undoubtedly provide invaluable services to communities all across the state. However, those programs are undermined considerably when so many Coloradans cannot access or complete those programs due to transportation, child care, legal, financial and other constraints.

For example, for many of us a broken alternator entails a trip to the mechanic and a small financial inconvenience. But what of the low-income welding student from Crestone, with $70 to her name, who must travel 50 miles each day to and from Alamosa?

Given that 46 percent of Americans cannot cover a $400 emergency expense, such a misfortune, and others like it, can and do compromise the ability of the many non-working Coloradans striving towards their job-training or employment goal. Fortunately, there is a bill at the state legislature this year that seeks to address these symptoms of poverty within the context of job-training and employment.

House Bill 1310, sponsored by Rep. James Coleman, D-Denver, and Sen. Rhonda Fields, D-Aurora, would provide a last resort, “rainy day” resource to those Coloradans working towards an employment or job-training goal, but who experience a financial emergency that impedes that goal.

Capped at $400 per eligible person, per year, this bill ensures that Coloradans with employment barriers actively attempting to better their lives don’t get thrown off their feet again simply because of a relatively small financial expense.

Scripture simultaneously obligates us to work for our daily bread and care for the poor. It also teaches us — as noted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life”— to enact policies in which “all people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work.”

HB 1310 touches upon all three of those obligations. It is a bill that supports the economic initiative undertaken by non-working Coloradans. It will also reduce poverty across our state by supporting these Coloradans through a modest investment so that they can get into the workforce, earn their daily bread and care for their families.

From both an economic and moral perspective, HB 1310 makes sense for Colorado.

We wholeheartedly support HB 1310 and ask you to contact your state legislator and voice your support for this legislation.

COMING UP: Dignity of criminals and workers defended in legislative bills

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During the last legislative session, Colorado Catholic Conference pushed several bills of legislation that seek to promote the values of mercy and forgiveness in the criminal justice system.

Senate Bills 180 and 181 deal with the dignity of criminals, while House Bills 1386 and 1388 recognize the dignity of workers. Each of the bills is being supported by CCC because they highlight the relationship between justice and mercy that Pope Francis called people to reflect upon during the Jubilee Year of Mercy.

“[Justice and mercy] are not two contradictory realities, but two dimensions of a single reality that unfolds progressively until it culminates in the fullness of love,” the Holy Father wrote in the papal document Misericordiae Vultus.

Jenny Kraska, executive director of CCC, said they made good gains in criminal justice reform during this legislative session.

“It was great to be able to work on something that will be helpful in the juvenile justice and restorative justice realm in Colorado,” Kraska said.

The CCC said that the following bills “recognize the need for a just punishment, but also offer a dimension of hope, rehabilitation and mercy.”

Senate Bill 180

Senate Bill 180 is a bipartisan bill that aims to form a specialized program with the Colorado Department of Corrections that would determine whether individuals convicted of crimes at a juvenile age continue to pose a threat to the community when they are older.

According the the text of the bill, “the offender serving a sentence for a felony committed while the offender was a juvenile may apply for placement in the program if he or she has served 20 calendar years of his or her sentence and has not been released on parole.”

The bill would provide to such eligible individuals the opportunity to demonstrate that they no longer pose a threat to society, and could be granted early parole if they complete the program successfully.

As of the end of the legislative session on May 11, Senate Bill 180 has passed.

Senate Bill 181

Senate Bill 181 takes a page from the 2012 case Miller v. Alabama, during which the United States Supreme Court ruled that imposing a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole on a juvenile is a form of cruel and unusual punishment prohibited per the eight amendment to the United States Constitution.

This bill allows Colorado district courts the opportunity to consider re-sentencing juvenile offenders in Colorado who were sentenced to a mandatory life sentence without the possibility of parole as a youth under the age of 18.

Senate Bill 180 and 181 were companion bills, Kraska said. Senate Bill 181 also passed as of the end of the session.

During the last legislative session, lobbying efforts on the part of Colorado Catholic Conference resulted in several bills being passed that uphold the dignity of criminals and workers, and promote the values of mercy and forgiveness within the criminal justice system. The session ended on May 11. (Photo by Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

During the last legislative session, lobbying efforts on the part of Colorado Catholic Conference resulted in several bills being passed that uphold the dignity of criminals and workers, and promote the values of mercy and forgiveness within the criminal justice system. The session ended on May 11. (Photo by Manuel Martinez/Viva Colorado)

House Bill 1386

House Bill 1386 was a bill that was slated to die during the session, but last-minute lobbying efforts on the part of Kraska and CCC resulted in it passing.

According to the text of the bill, “[House Bill 1386] directs the Office of Health Equity in the Department of Public Health and Environment to administer a necessary document program.” Necessary documents are defined by the bill as a social security card, driver’s license, identification card, birth, death or marriage certificates, or any document required in order to be issued one of these documents,

This bill addresses those Colorado citizens who have difficulty obtaining identification documents, namely those who are victims of domestic violence, impacted by a natural disaster, low-income, disabled, homeless or elderly.

The bill will essentially set up a fund within the state that gives to various charities, which in turn will allow for these charities to help people in these situations obtain proper ID documents. This will make it easier for them to find housing, enroll in school and ultimately, do the day-to-day necessities that require an ID to fulfill.

House Bill 1388

House Bill 1388 sought to recognize the dignity of workers by making it so offenders who have paid their society aren’t immediately disqualified from a job based on their criminal history.

The CCC said that “some employers disqualify applicants based on a job application’s criminal history inquiry with our asking further questions about reform, capability or fitness.” House Bill 1388 would provide greater protection for job applicants with a criminal history as they seek to become a truly rehabilitated, productive member of society.

Though the CCC pushed for it to pass, House Bill 1388 died in the Senate.

To learn more about legislation that promotes Catholic values, visit Colorado Catholic Conference’s website.