What’s Next for Colorado’s OFE: 5 Things to Know

As Colorado’s legislative session comes to an end, we’re celebrating the passage of SB21-148, which will create a first-of-its-kind statewide office of financial empowerment (OFE).

We’re grateful to be part of the community-driven coalition responsible for advancing this bill. We also know it wouldn’t have been possible without the support and dedication of Senator Gonzales, Senator Kolker, Majority Leader Esgar, Representative Tipper, and the attorney general’s office.

Now that the bill has passed, here are a few things to keep in mind.

1. The need for a statewide focus on financial empowerment is real.

Many, many Coloradans face deep and significant financial precarity:

  • More than 1 in 5 households, and nearly half of households of color, are either unbanked or underbanked. 
  • Prior to COVID, approximately 26 percent of Coloradans had debt in collections — numbers which will likely grow, given our state had the second highest rate of residents in the country using debt to make basic ends meet during the pandemic.
  • Nearly 30 percent of Coloradans live between poverty and the middle class, an economically perilous position where one crisis can have long-lasting, intergenerational financial implications. 

Importantly, these problems aren’t isolated, and instead, exist in communities across our state — in both rural and urban areas, on the eastern plains, and in mountain communities.

2. A new statewide OFE will grow economic well-being and resilience across Colorado.

Once it’s up and running, the statewide OFE will work to:

  • Increase access to safe banking products, affordable credit, and financial navigation services; 
  • Identify and address emerging consumer protection issues;
  • Foster community-informed policies to dismantle systemic barriers to building ownership and wealth for all, especially low-income Coloradans and communities of color
  • Lift up, support, and connect local community empowerment efforts across the state

As has been shown through a variety of studies — including evaluations of Denver’s local OFE — these very services are connected to greater resilience and financial security.

3. This is a community-driven effort, which means we must continue to center affected communities and community solutions.

We’re proud to have worked with local community leaders across the state — including in Pueblo, Aurora, Commerce City, and the Roaring Fork Valley — to pass SB21-148. You can read more about the work and experiences of our coalition partners here.

As financial empowerment work continues across our state, it’s imperative we use tailored, locally developed strategies. Communities across Colorado are unique, and have different strengths and needs. Recognizing this, the new statewide OFE is intentionally charged with supporting localities in their work to achieve community-identified financial empowerment goals

4. With SB21-148, Colorado becomes a national leader in the financial empowerment movement.

While there are several city-specific OFEs (including one in Denver), SB21-148 creates the very first statewide office. Our efforts in Colorado demonstrate states can play a critical role in directing resources and attention to financial empowerment work.

5. Next steps: Setting up the office.

So now that SB21-148 passed, what happens next? Before we can begin realizing the benefits of a statewide OFE, we need to set-up the office, which includes hiring a director and putting together an advisory council to guide the work. In the meantime, however, the good and important financial empowerment work already happening in local communities will continue.

The passage of SB21-148 is a major milestone in the movement to create the proactive financial empowerment infrastructure our state needs. But this is just the start, and we’re excited to be part of this statewide effort to systemically improve financial well-being across Colorado.