Lawmakers end special session with nearly $300 million for pandemic relief
Measures not the silver bullet, but expected to help
Colorado lawmakers wrapped up a three-day special session this week, pulling together nearly $300 million to help residents, businesses, schools and health agencies that are struggling with the coronavirus pandemic and hardships it has caused.
Gov. Jared Polis requested the session in November after congressional leaders failed to pass additional federal relief.
“The bipartisan efforts achieved this week will help folks get through the challenging months ahead,” Polis said. “But we know there is more work to be done and we continue to urge Washington to take action and give Coloradans the support we need to get through these tougher times and build back stronger.”
State Rep. Dylan Roberts, who represents Eagle and Routt counties, said the session was a success for the state, echoing the belief that Congress needs to approve a more comprehensive pandemic relief package.
“Due to Congress’s inability to act, we as a state found every last dollar we have available and put together a package of relief programs that were bipartisan, with funds ready to distribute,” Roberts said. “We passed 10 bills that are going to help a lot of people. It will certainly not be the silver bullet, but it will provide major assistance until Congress can strike a deal, hopefully sooner than later.”
Helping small businesses
The relief measures were passed as more counties and businesses around Colorado are facing capacity limits, with virus infections surging in the state and across most of the country.
Lawmakers approved a total of $57 million in direct aid for struggling small businesses, prioritizing those in counties experiencing severe capacity restrictions, as well as for minority-owned businesses and art and cultural organizations.
Another measure allows restaurants and bars to keep up to $2,000 a month in state sales taxes they collect, from November until February of next year.
Other bills lawmakers passed in the special session authorize $60 million for emergency housing assistance, $45 million to help child care providers keep their doors open, $20 million to help school districts improve internet access for teachers and students, $5 million for direct assistance to people struggling to pay utilities, $5 million to help food pantries, and $100 million for public health operations and responses to the pandemic.
Calls for congressional action
Chris Romer, president and CEO of Vail Valley Partnership, said lawmakers took a thoughtful and pragmatic approach to do what they could to address many of the challenges that exist in Colorado. “I think it will make a difference and help people hang on a bit longer as we wait for normalized business and vaccines and federal relief,” he said.
Congress, not bound by the balanced budget requirements state lawmakers face, needs to pass another comprehensive federal relief measure, Romer said.
“With the way the virus is acting around the country, the economic impacts and the employment numbers, it is incumbent upon them to act in a meaningful way, and quickly,” Romer said. “I give the state a ton of credit for doing what they can do. I think it’s meaningful and I think it helps. They just don’t have the resources to have as meaningful of a program as we need to see.”
After several months of inability to find agreement, Congress is again taking steps to potentially pass another federal relief package, trying to build consensus, at least for now, around a $908 billion package.
Roberts said the pandemic, now in its 10th month, has been incredibly challenging for everyone, and there is a general sense of nervousness about the ski season and keeping resorts and businesses open.
“That’s the biggest concern, making sure we can keep as many businesses as possible open, keep as many people employed as possible, and bridge the gap until spring or summer when a vaccine is deployed and we’re starting to emerge out of this pandemic,” Roberts said. “We can be proud the state Legislature stepped up and found bipartisan solutions and passed legislation that will help people right away. But we did that in the face of people in both parties in Washington, D.C. not doing their jobs. We hope Washington will follow Colorado’s lead.”
Guidance for distributing the state funding should be released as soon as next week.
“The idea is to get this funding out the door as quickly as possible,” Roberts said. “We want to make sure as many businesses and residents as possible in the county can take advantage of it.”
Roberts plans to host a virtual town hall about the relief measures with other state legislators at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 8. More information and a link to the town hall is available at http://www.facebook.com/events/1737599896407433/.
Tom Lotshaw can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.