State lawmakers pass around $300 million in COVID-19 relief during special session

Coronavirus

DENVER (KDVR) — In three days, the state Legislature managed to come up with around $300 million in emergency spending to help families and small businesses survive the pandemic, but some of the funding comes with a caveat.

Lawmakers were able to allocate more money than they set out to at the start of the session. They also made a big move to help business owners – but only if they follow the rules.

“If you are not complying with public health orders and you are staying open, you don’t get to get the money that small businesses that have shut down, who are at 10 percent capacity, need from the state. I’m sorry, you don’t qualify. You’re doing fine, you’re open,” said Denver Democrat Leslie Herod. 

It was one of the most contentious bills of the special session. Lawmakers approved $57 million for small businesses, minority-owned businesses and arts organizations.

Here is the caveat: they have to comply with public health orders to get the money. Not everybody thinks that is fair.

“The fiscal note says about $1,700 but it’s cash for compliance. They said, ‘Matt, that’s not enough and that’s too little too late for rural Colorado,'” said Mesa County Republican Matt Soper.

The bill is the third largest behind the $100 million measure supporting the state’s COVID-19 response and a bill adding $60 million for emergency housing assistance and boost the state’s eviction legal defense fund.

“I think the moratorium is really important to keep folks housed but if you don’t have funding to back it up, then you just have landlords who are getting farther and farther behind on their mortgage payments, capital payments and utility bills,” said Elena Wilken, executive director of Housing Colorado. 

“It’s for homeowners with mortgage payments, it’s for landlords with tenants that can’t pay (they would apply for assistance on behalf of their tenants), and then for tenants themselves. If the lease covers utilities, the assistance also covers utilities,” said Jefferson County Democrat Rep. Kerry Tipper.

Lawmakers also added an extra $2 million to lessen food insecurity in Colorado, bringing the total funding for the effort to $5 million.

Other measures passed will:

State legislators still consider what they were able to get done to be just a drop in the bucket for Coloradans until lawmakers in Washington approve more stimulus funds.

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