Colorado Startup Loan Program, Utility Assistance Bills Become Law

DENVER, CO– Governor Polis signed two bills to create a startup loan program for small businesses and to significantly boost low-income utility bill payment assistance across Colorado. 

“Small businesses have been the key to Colorado’s economic recovery in the wake of COVID-19,” said Rep. Monica Duran, D-Wheat Ridge, sponsor of HB21-1288. “By providing entrepreneurs with access to small business loans, we’re making a direct investment in sustainable economic growth for our state. Lack of access to capital shouldn’t be what stops a promising entrepreneur from turning a great idea into a job-creating business.”

“The startup loan program we created will ensure that Colorado’s entrepreneurs have the access to financial products they need to get businesses off the ground, grow sustainably or restructure their existing businesses,” said Rep. Jennifer Bacon, D-Denver, sponsor of HB21-1288. “I’m particularly proud that this program will prioritize entrepreneurs who have faced historic and systemic barriers to accessing capital. This new law will help us create jobs, grow our economy more equitably, and ensure local economies can build back stronger.” 

To help fill the need created by COVID-19 related business closures, HB21-1288 provides $30 million in ongoing lending capital to entrepreneurs who face barriers to accessing traditional sources of capital and businesses wishing to restart or reorganize after facing pandemic related financial challenges. People of color have historically faced barriers to accessing the capital necessary to start a new business and have also faced a higher rate of business closures.

“Families across Colorado are struggling to keep the lights on, and our current utility assistance system is not funded well enough to help every family in need,” said Rep. Chris Kennedy, D-Lakewood, sponsor of HB21-1105. “After today, Colorado will have a sustainable funding source for our direct assistance programs that will ensure the needs of our communities are met. There was a dire need to address this issue well before the pandemic began, and I’m very pleased we were able to take care of it this year.” 

HB21-1105 creates a sustainable funding source and expands eligibility for low-income assistance programs. The existing funding mechanism for low-income utility assistance is volatile and is not keeping up with the need in Colorado communities for direct assistance. Dozens of counties receive less than 50 percent of their requested energy assistance funds. While exempting low-income customers, the bill directs utilities to collect a $1 fee on electricity customers and a $1 fee on gas customers, which will be used to finance direct utility bill payment assistance and weatherization retrofits to low-income households. The bill also creates a mechanism for cross enrollment with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program to maximize the number of eligible Colorado recipients. It also allows water utilities to voluntarily collect a charge to finance direct water utility assistance for low-income customers. 

Even before the pandemic hit, one in four Colorado households struggled to pay monthly utility bills. In the last year, Energy Outreach Colorado, which has received federal and state stimulus funding through recent legislation, paid $13 million in utility bills for 25,000 households, indicating the need for a sustainable funding source. Among the tens of thousands of recipients the energy assistance nonprofit serves are seniors, Coloradans with disabilities, and essential frontline workers.