Special session wraps with $300 million in relief

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DENVER — A three-day session aimed at providing some relief to Colorado Businesses and families ended Thursday with the goal met, in Governor Jared Polis’ eyes.

“I’m proud as Governor that the men and women of our legislature have risen to the occasion and taken critical bipartisan steps towards bridging the gap and addressing the challenge,” said Gov. Polis, the democrat who called the session.

Ten bills were passed, generating around $300 million in aid:

  1. Small business relief: $57 million in grants would be distributed to small businesses who took financial hits from the COVID-19 capacity restrictions. 
  2. Housing and rental assistance: $50 million would be allocated towards emergency housing assistance for renters and landlords.
  3. Broadband access: $20 million would be allocated for schools and rural communities struggling to get critical infrastructure and access to internet in a time when it’s needed the most to continue online learning. 
  4. Energy utility assistance: $5 million dollars would be allocated to help families struggling to pay their utility bills in the winter months. 
  5. Colorado public health response: $100 million would go towards ensuring the state can continue to respond to the pandemic. Some of that money should be reimbursed by FEMA.
  6. Sales tax relief: This would allow restaurants and bars to keep up to $2,000 in sales taxes they collect per month during November through March, potentially up to $8,000 in relief.
  7. Child care support: $45 million would be distributed to over 2,000 child care facilities
  8. Food pantry assistance: One in three Coloradans struggle with food insecurities. $5 million would be allocated to increase food access for Colorado families.

Two other bills passed without fiscal impacts: One that allows local governments to set fee limits on third party food delivery platforms, like Door Dash and Grub Hub, after several small businesses said those fees cut into their profits. The other makes several changes to how the estimated taxes insurance premiums are paid.

Businesses looking for relief as part of the $57 million passed must be located in Red or Purple level counties on the state’s COVID-19 dial.

“This is for the counties that have a huge COVID problem and these businesses are going under. So, it’s focused on the businesses in the counties with the most need,” said Rep. Shane Sandridge, a republican representing Monument and Northern Colorado Springs.

Colorado House Speaker, Rep. KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat, says when the relief is combined with the tax breaks, the state legislature provided over $100 million in relief for small businesses.

Businesses in high-spread counties can use the money they receive on whatever they see fit, whether it be rent, payroll, or utilities, Sandridge said. He added that he’s also proud of the $4 million dedicated to minority-owned businesses.

“Minority-owned businesses are among the hardest hit in this pandemic. They struggle the most to get relief [or] loans, and they go under quicker, that’s what the facts show. And this bill is designed to go to the groups with the most need,” Sandridge said.

Sandridge sponsored the bill to pass that funding. Rep. Tony Exum, a democrat representing southeastern Colorado Springs, sponsored the bill providing assistance to tenants, landlords, and anyone struggling to keep their housing because of financial strain from the pandemic.

“We felt like with the added restrictions, we needed to do something as a state to help secure people in their homes,” Exum said.

The bill also contributes $1 million to the Eviction Legal Defense Fund. Exum says, the money can be used for people looking to pay their rent or for land lords to help tenants they know are struggling and want to avoid evicting them.

People looking for housing assistance can apply for it on the Department of Local Affairs website.

No matter the bill, both law makers know it’s bridge to fill the gap until the U.S Congress follows in their footsteps: Working in a bipartisan manner to fund relief for people and businesses.

“Is it going to be enough? No,” Sandridge said. “We just don’t have enough money. Some of these bills are designed to briefly help certain businesses to keep them above water.”

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