DENVER POST: Coloradans “Crushed Under the Weight” of COVID, Facing “Unprecedented” Hard Times After Gardner & Senate GOP Failed to Deliver Relief

DENVER POST: Coloradans “Crushed Under the Weight” of COVID, Facing “Unprecedented” Hard Times After Gardner & Senate GOP Failed to Deliver Relief

Unemployed Coloradan: “I can’t afford rent, that’s the biggest thing right now”

“South Metro Fire Rescue…is looking at a possible shortfall of $3 million to $16 million”

Denver, CO – A Denver Post front page story shows the real-life “unprecedented” challenges that Coloradans are facing after Senator Cory Gardner left Washington without delivering urgently-needed COVID relief. While the House passed sweeping legislation to fully restore emergency unemployment and provide resources for our local governments, small businesses, schools, and the USPS nearly four months ago, Gardner and Mitch McConnell refused to act — leaving Coloradans to be “crushed under the weight” of the pandemic.

John Hickenlooper took Gardner to task for failing Colorado and taking “‘a vacation’ in August without passing relief for unemployed workers and small businesses, or expanding COVID testing.”

After a month-long recess and 111 days since Gardner said it would be “unfathomable” to go on recess without passing additional pandemic aid, the vulnerable senator finally returned to Washington today but with no comprehensive plan to help struggling Coloradans. 

See highlights of the article below or full story HERE.

Denver Post: “It’s unprecedented”: Congress returns as Coloradans seek help with housing, unemployment
Lawmakers under pressure to assist the unemployed and small businesses
By Justin Wingerter | September 8, 2020

The 38-year-old was kept afloat for a time by an unemployment payment from the federal government, which sent her $600 per week on top of the $96 per week she was receiving through unemployment insurance. But since that federal payment ended July 31, Sorice has been left to pay her bills and eat on $96 per week, an impossibility in the Denver area.

“I can’t afford rent, that’s the biggest thing right now,” she said from her apartment in Edgewater.

Sorice’s story is not uncommon. Colorado, like the country, is hurting. Landlords are not being paid, businesses are shutting their doors for good, children are missing meals, unemployment remains high, municipal budgets have been decimated, and coronavirus testing needs remain unmet in some areas.

This is the predicament Congress returns to Tuesday. Crushed under the weight of economic shutdowns, many Coloradans expect the federal government to ease the financial burdens this pandemic has caused. For the past several months, their weary eyes have seen nothing but congressional stalemates and inaction.

“If we’re not keeping people in their homes, if we’re not keeping people from going bankrupt, then our health crisis is going to continue to spin out of control and we’re going to look at a decade-plus-long recovery,” said Rep. Jason Crow, an Aurora Democrat. “People are losing their homes; they’re losing their life savings. That’s a long-term economic hit.”

As part of a $3 trillion bill, the Democrat-controlled U.S. The House voted in May to extend the $600-per-week enhanced unemployment benefit, but a majority in the Republican-controlled Senate, along with Trump, are opposed to doing so.

Since mid-March, 542,619 unemployment claims have been filed in Colorado, according to state labor data released Thursday, and $4.8 billion in benefits has been distributed. During the last week in August, 5,837 claims were filed, which is both the lowest weekly total since mid-March and higher than the average number of weekly claims during the depths of the Great Recession in 2009 and 2010.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Kim Da Silva, executive director of Community Food Share, a food bank that serves Boulder and Broomfield counties. “Unlike the Great Recession, we’re in a health and economic stress that we’ve never seen before. The scariest part for us — for food bankers, for people in the basic needs industry — is that we don’t know when we’re going to come out of this.”

The HEROES Act, the massive coronavirus relief bill passed by the House in May, would send more than $1 trillion to state and local governments across the country, refilling government coffers that have been drained by declines in tax revenue since March. 

South Metro Fire Rescue, which is primarily funded by property tax revenue, is looking at a possible shortfall of $3 million to $16 million in the next few years, according to spokesperson Kristin Eckmann.

“That’s a fire district that has 85% of its money spent on personnel,” said Crow, the congressman who represents some of the fire department’s jurisdiction. “… That means they’re cutting firefighter jobs. We just cannot allow that to happen right now.”

Scott Robson is the town manager in Vail, which derives 40% of its annual revenue from sales taxes. He expects his town coffers will lose about $19 million in revenue this year, forcing deferrals of capital projects, millions of dollars in cuts to operating expenses, and a handful of layoffs for seasonal staff.

“What we’ve heard from our business community here is that the next few months are going to be some of the toughest rent checks that they write in their professional careers,” Robson said.

In Colorado, this will weigh most heavily on Sen. Cory Gardner, the vulnerable Yuma Republican who is asking voters for six more years in the Senate.

Meanwhile, his Democratic opponent, John Hickenlooper, has used his latest ad to accuse Gardner of taking “a vacation” in August without passing relief for unemployed workers and small businesses, or expanding COVID testing.

While the Senate’s August break routinely occurs each year, Democrats are quick to note it was Gardner who said May 20 that it would be “unfathomable” for the Senate to adjourn without passing a relief bill. It did adjourn, and Hickenlooper has let him hear about it ever since.

“I would have thought that with the fall elections approaching, and with so many vulnerable Republican senators, like Cory Gardner, that (Senate Majority Leader) Mitch McConnell would have made a good-faith effort to help people,” said Rep. Diana DeGette, a Denver Democrat. “I have no idea what he is thinking.”

No Republican House members responded to a request for comment last week about their relief priorities. 

“What is lacking in Congress right now is the political will to ultimately get something done for the American people,” Neguse said. “It’s hard to predict. It’s an open question.”