Colorado Democrats unveiled a broad package of coronavirus relief legislation Thursday that includes rent and mortgage assistance, expanded unemployment benefits, and small business loans and grants.
“Coloradans are looking to us for leadership and how we will help them rebuild their lives,” Speaker KC Becker, a Boulder Democrat, said in a news release. “These bills provide direct support to help hardworking Coloradans afford to stay in their homes, pay their bills and make ends meet.”
Among the bills that have been or will be introduced:
Unemployment: The bill would loosen the state’s restrictions on who can qualify for benefits and increase the amount of money someone can earn from part-time work before the state reduces their benefits. People who quit their jobs because of poor safety protocols in the workplace or because they are caregivers for children whose schools are closed by a health crisis would become permanently eligible under the bill. The state labor department would also be tasked with exploring the creation of a state unemployment program for gig workers and independent contractors — people now covered by federal aid.
Housing assistance: The bill would allot $20 million to help Coloradans in need pay their rent and mortgages and provide legal assistance to those facing eviction.
Sick leave: The bill would allow employees to accrue an hour of sick leave for every week they work, said Senate Majority Leader Steve Fenberg, the bill sponsor. Employees could accrue up to 48 hours each year. The measure is meant to allow workers to visit the doctor or stay home if they or family members are sick. The measure would also require businesses to offer the federally required 80 hours of paid sick leave during public health emergencies like the pandemic, he said.
Business loans and grants: One bill to be introduced would add $20 million to the Energize Colorado Fund, which provides grants to businesses with no more than 25 employees that are suffering financially because of COVID-19. Another bill would use federal and state dollars to create a $250 million loan fund that would essentially guarantee part of the money small businesses borrow for the next two fiscal years — an effort to encourage lending by banks.
Mental health: The bill would put an additional $15 million toward mental health programs and substance abuse treatment to help counter the challenges many people are facing due to social distancing rules and financial problems.
Domestic violence: The bill would make $500,000 available for domestic violence programs amid reports of up to a 50% increase in people seeking help.
Other measures would set aside $500,000 to help food pantries, add protections against price gouging, protect workers who report health and safety concerns about their employers, earmark $10 million to assist families in danger of having their utilities turned off, ensure that insurers allow patients to use telehealth services, and give the attorney general more oversight on debt collection.
The legislature has said it would try to finish its work by the end of next week, but it’s not clear whether the timeline will be extended after George Floyd protests prompted lawmakers to cancel two days of the session last week.
Denver Post staff writers Conrad Swanson, Aldo Svaldi and Joe Rubino contributed to this report.
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