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Governor Jared Polis Calls General Assembly to Return for Special Session to Help Coloradans and Colorado Businesses Survive COIVD-19 Economic Realities

The Colorado General Assembly has convened in special session today, Monday, November 30 to pass bipartisan COVID-19 relief legislation that will support small businesses, increase access to child care and food assistance, help Coloradans cover their housing and utility costs, and improve broadband options for students in need. As they do so, the Governor himself has tested positive for COVID-19.

“Congressional inaction has left millions stranded – completely abandoned in their time of need. Small businesses have been drowning for months waiting for comprehensive federal aid, while hardworking Coloradans anxiously watch housing and unemployment support dissipate,” said Senate President Leroy Garcia, D-Pueblo. “The amount the Colorado state government can do to alleviate the burdens of struggling communities is limited, but it’s not nothing. That’s why we are using everything in our power to deliver the support families and businesses need to make it through another couple months. I fully believe that federal relief is on its way, but Coloradans simply can’t wait any longer. This stimulus package will help cover the immediate needs of those hit hardest by the pandemic and buoy us until more help is available.”

In a continuing economic disaster that is taking its toll on nearly every Coloradan, the special session will focus on bills to help small businesses, housing, child care, broadband for students, utilities, and food pantries. Overwhelmingly, states are dealing with the lack of federal leadership during the coronavirus pandemic while COVID-19 is surging across Colorado. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment now estimates that one in every 41 Coloradoans has COVID-19.

Just this past weekend, Chaffee County saw it’s highest single day of COVID-19; 29 cases were diagnosed on Saturday, with many more positive cases expected after the long holiday weekend. While it remains in a “Yellow-some Orange” status on the COVID-19 dial, this county is surrounded by Orange and Red status counties and any further deterioration will threaten our local economy.

“Only Washington can deliver the kind of comprehensive relief our communities need, but Coloradans can’t wait any longer,” said Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder.”Our state government will step up with every tool we have, despite our limited budget, to do what we can to help bridge the gap until Congress acts and until a vaccine is ready.”

Legislative leaders say that they will work on developing a package of bills to offer a lifeline to those who find themselves fighting to stay afloat, from small businesses, to help families avoid foreclosure or eviction, and increase access to safe child care options.

Seven COVID-19 Relief Categories

The General Assembly will address seven key areas aimed at providing immediate relief to Coloradans who have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic. Each area will include policy proposals focused on meeting the most essential needs of families and businesses.

Small Business Aid (Sens. Winter and Priola and Rep. Herod): Capacity limits have severely impacted small businesses across the state, especially bars, restaurants, gyms, and entertainment venues. To buttress these industries for the difficult winter months ahead, two bills are being proposed. The first will begin in the Senate, sponsored by Senators Winter and Priola and Representative Herod. This bill will send $57 million in direct aid, grants, and annual fee waivers to struggling small businesses – prioritizing those operating in counties experiencing severe capacity restrictions. It will also create grant programs and allocate funds specifically for art and cultural organizations as well as minority-owned businesses.

Sales Tax Relief (Reps. A. Valdez and Van Winkle and Sens. Bridges and Tate): Eating establishments have been hit particularly hard by capacity restrictions. This bill will allow restaurants, bars, and food trucks to retain state sales tax they collect from November 2020 through February 2021. This will provide bars and restaurants from $2,000 to $10,000 in tax relief each month to help them make ends meet.

Child Care Support (Reps. Kipp and Landgraf and Sens. Pettersen and Sonnenberg): Colorado’s economic recovery depends on its workforce having access to stable childcare. But due to temporary closures and the increased costs of health and safety precautions for childcare providers, many are on the brink of financial collapse.  This legislation will distribute $45 million to enable existing providers to keep their doors open and new providers to open and meet the needs of working parents, especially in childcare deserts. These grant programs are estimated to support 2,600 child care facilities, preserving childcare for over 100,000 children and creating capacity for tens of thousands more. Moreover, research shows that for every dollar spent on early childhood programs, $2.25 is contributed to our state’s economy.

Housing and Direct Rental Assistance (Sens. Gonzales and Holbert and Reps. Exum, Sr. and Tipper): The impending expiration of federal assistance programs such as enhanced unemployment benefits, leaves millions of Coloradans vulnerable to eviction or foreclosure in the coming months. In fact, according to recent surveys, over 40 percent of Coloradans are living in a household that is behind on their rent or mortgage and at risk of foreclosure or eviction. This legislation will provide $50 million for emergency housing assistance to individuals and households who are in financial need due to COVID-19. Of the funding, $500,000 will support the Eviction Legal Assistance Fund, which will help Coloradans stay in their homes this winter.

Increasing Broadband Access (Sens. Kerry Donovan and Coram and Reps. Young and Soper): Internet access is absolutely essential for students during this difficult time. But many families who are struggling with financial stability simply can’t afford to cover the cost, while numerous school districts lack the infrastructure to educate their students remotely. This proposal will dedicate $20 million towards increasing our state’s broadband capacity – connecting more students to their teachers so that they can learn safely in the months ahead.

Food Pantry Assistance (Rep. Cutter and Bockenfeld and Sen. Story): 1 in 3 Coloradans are struggling with food insecurity as more and more families are being forced to choose between paying their bills and putting food on the table. Food banks and their partners need additional assistance to meet the rising demands, especially as the December expiration for federal hunger-relief looms. A bill beginning in the House would devote $3 million to replenishing these essential community services to increase access to food for Colorado families that fear they’ll go to bed hungry.

Utilities Assistance (Sens. Fields and Crowder and Reps. Duran and Landgraf): As unemployment numbers remain high and federal resources continue to dwindle, many Coloradans are at risk of losing their utilities – a dangerous outcome in the winter months. This bill will appropriate $5 million to the Energy Outreach Colorado Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund in order to meet the 25 percent increase in applications that Energy Outreach Colorado has seen this year.

Public Health Response (Sens. Moreno and Rankin and Rep. McCluskie): With many hospitals across Colorado reaching critical capacity in recent weeks, additional funds are needed to continue the State’s robust public health response. This legislation will allocate an additional $100 million to ensure the State can continue to protect public health while we await additional federal stimulus and reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The legislature has convened with the same overall composition and legislative leadership as the 2020 regular legislative session. Lawmakers will have the option of participating remotely for floor work, and there will be limited committee work with remote public testimony options.

Other measures have been adopted to mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak, including the provision of additional safety measures in the building, such as daily rapid testing and KN95 masks for legislators and staff as well as increased social distancing.