Colorado lawmakers continue special session Tuesday to help provide COVID relief

KKTV 11 News this Morning
Published: Nov. 19, 2020 at 9:28 PM MST
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DENVER (KKTV) - Colorado lawmakers are now on day two of a special session to help citizens and businesses with COVID-19 relief.

Gov. Jared Polis -- now stricken with virus himself -- announced the session in mid-November.

“Extraordinary times call for extraordinary action. I’ll be asking the general assembly to take up critical legislation that will help Colorado families and Colorado small businesses survive these challenging winter months ahead to bridge us to the vaccine,” he said in a news conference Nov. 17.

Day one had the feel of a marathon as lawmakers worked from Monday morning well into Monday night trying to find common ground on a range of bills from support for small businesses to housing assistance. Below are three bipartisan bills introduced during Monday’s session:

Money for energy utility bill payment assistance

What it would do: Transfer money from the general fund to go into the newly-created “Energy Outreach Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund.” Money must be used by June 30 of next year, or unused money goes back to the general fund.

COVID-19 relief for small and minority-owned businesses and arts organizations

What it would do: Give $37 million for direct relief payments to small businesses that are located in areas under severe capacity restrictions (restaurants, bars, movie theaters, gyms), provided these businesses can prove at least 10 percent revenue loss since March 26; $7.5 million for relief payments to arts, culture, entertainment artists; $1.8 million to Department of Revenue to offset waiving liquor license fees; $4 million towards direct relief payments, grants, loans, consulting to support minority-owned businesses; and funding to the state health department to “provide state funding in lieu of those local government agencies charging annual licensing fees to certain retail food establishments.”

How much would businesses get:

-Eligible small business that had less than $500,000 in receipts in 2019 can receive up to $3,500

- Small businesses that made between $500,000-$1 million in 2019 can receive up to $5,000

- Small businesses that made between $1 million-$2.5 million in 2019 can receive up to $7,000

Housing and direct COVID emergency assistance

What it would do: Creates the “Emergency Direct Assistance Grant Program.” The program will be repealed June 30, 2022. Money would be transferred from the general fund to the new program, as well as the Housing Development Grant Fund and the Eviction Legal Defense Fund. Money must be used by June 30 of next year.

The session resumes Tuesday.

Below is the list of items the governor is calling for lawmakers to take action on during the special session (below information provided by the governor’s office):

1) Small Business Relief: Small businesses, including bars and restaurants, gyms and fitness studios, and entertainment venues have struggled to stay open at lower capacities, making it difficult to pay their staff and rent. These small businesses will need direct support and tax relief to make it through the challenging fall and winter months. The call requests the General Assembly take action, including by providing relief from sales tax payments for bars and restaurants, and direct aid for various business types.

2) Child Care Support: The COVID-19 pandemic has burdened child care providers, which we know are crucial to building and sustaining a thriving economy by enabling families to work and preparing children for school. Based on a recent survey, at least 26 percent of child care facilities in Colorado may close permanently, without financial support, due to the pandemic.

3) Housing and Direct Rental Assistance: Because of the federal Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loans for small businesses, enhanced unemployment benefits, and direct payments to Americans, we avoided a significant wave of housing evictions and foreclosures. Now, though, the expiration of these programs leaves vulnerable Coloradans at risk of eviction or foreclosure in the coming months.

4) Increasing Broadband Access: While the majority of school districts are learning in person, the most recent increase in cases has forced many school districts, including many Denver metro area school districts, to switch to remote learning. Without broadband or wi-fi, these students will face significant learning loss that will have implications for their future academic careers and lifetime earnings.

5) Food Insecurity: Demand for food assistance via food pantries and food banks has increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The demand appears to be correlated with the unemployment and furloughs through the service sector, as well as school and camp closures, and is not anticipated to abate in the short-term. Meanwhile, food pantries’ food resources were often stretched prior to the Pandemic and economic fallout. As dollars available to hunger relief through the CARES Act and Families First Coronavirus Relief Act (FFRCA) end in December 2020, no new federal funding is currently available to replace these funds.

6) Utilities Assistance: Heading into the winter, many Coloradans are unemployed, underemployed, or unable to find new work all while having little to no savings and growing expenses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. This segment of the population now qualify as low-income, and are at risk of not being able to afford their utility bills over the coming months. Energy Outreach Colorado applications are up 25 percent compared to the same time last year, and funding allocated by the General Assembly during the prior legislative session will be distributed by December 4, 2020.

7) Public Health Response: As the pandemic has entered its third wave in Colorado, additional funds are needed immediately to continue the state’s robust public health response. The call includes a request for funds to ensure the state can continue to protect public health while we await additional federal stimulus and reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some state lawmakers say this session is not just needed, but urgent.

“Heads in their hands, people all over this state are staring at the unpaid bills that they have on the kitchen table, wondering how in the world are they going to make through the end of the month, let alone through the rest of the holiday season. We need to urgently bring relief to the people of our state.,” said state Senate President Leroy Garcia, who represents his hometown of Pueblo.

Click here to read the executive order.

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