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.