Loveland Reporter-Herald

Board supports expanding job training programs

- By Will Costello wcostello@ prairiemou­

Larimer County Commission­ers issued a formal declaratio­n of support for HB 23-1124, which would provide further funding to Colorado’s Employment First program, providing supportive services and job training to individual­s receiving Supplement­al Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) funds, sometimes referred to as food stamps.

The Employment First program provides voluntary assistance administer­ed by local authoritie­s such as Larimer County in attaining job training and other needs that can allow recipients to pursue employment that makes continued reliance on SNAP benefits unnecessar­y.

“Individual­s who are receiving SNAP benefits for food insecurity are able to voluntaril­y access additional training,” said Heather O’hayre, human services director for Larimer County. “Sometimes it’s a vocational certificat­ion, anything that we can do locally to help them increase their pay so ultimately they don’t need the food assistance benefits.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic and the state of emergency that was declared to deal with it, financial support flowed into the state to help offset the economic damage caused by the outbreak, but as those additional supports wane, a shortfall in funds has been reported by a number of agencies that administer the program, including Larimer County.

HB 23-1124 would replace this lost funding with $1.5 million from the state’s general fund that would make Colorado eligible for a $1.5 million match from the federal government, according to O’hayre.

Two of the three county commission­ers voted to officially support the bill at their administra­tive matters meeting on Tuesday, Commission­ers John Kefalas and Jody Shadduckmc­nally, while Commission­er Kristin Stephens was absent from Tuesday’s meeting and therefore could not cast a vote.

“I want to thank you for bringing this informatio­n forward, I think it’s very valuable,” Shadduck-mcnally said before voting in favor of supporting the bill.

Larimer County Manager Lorenda Volker also spoke in favor of the bill at the commission­er’s meeting.

“These funds are spent very judiciousl­y, very carefully, but they do meet every client’s unique needs so that they can engage in work and get the training they need,” Volker said on Tuesday.

Because the commission­ers registered their support of the bill, county staff will be permitted to testify at a Public & Behavioral Health & Human Services Committee meeting at the Colorado General Assembly on Wednesday afternoon.

The new $3 million that would be secured by the state’s $1.5 million investment if the bill passed would be allocated in perpetuity, and would continue to be available every year unless new legislatio­n eliminated it.

“Colorado’s mindset and focus must shift toward continued funding to support not only crisis needs, such as rent and utility assistance,” the bill’s text reads, “but also to support participan­ts in gaining meaningful training apprentice­ships, and tuition for vocational education, to help with costs associated with successful completion of secondary or post-secondary education programs, and to enable local county department­s and any third-party partners to expand across the state, including into rural counties.”

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